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Light and noise pollution ‘neglected’ health hazards

Posted on the 2nd August 2023

Noise Light Pollution

The UK’s Science and Technology Committee has identified light and noise as ‘neglected pollutants’ that are causing significant harm to human health and even leading to premature deaths.

The Committee is now calling on the government to do more to tackle these pollution sources with reforms that include improved regulation.

It follows a report by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) which revealed that a total of 130,000 healthy years of life are lost to noise pollution in the UK each year alone, with 40 per cent of the population exposed to unhealthy levels of road traffic noise.

While research on the health effects of light pollution is less developed, it has been noted to disrupt circadian rhythms and sleep, with potential social and economic consequences. It is estimated that sleep disturbance caused by light and noise pollution costs the UK economy £34bn a year.

The American Medical Association has previously warned of the health and environmental impacts of “white” LED streetlights, recommending the installation of dimmer or warmer-colored outdoor lighting instead.

The Science and Technology Committee wants to see the establishment of an expert advisory group on noise, similar to that set up for air pollution.

This body would provide independent advice to the government and assess emerging evidence. It also recommended that UKHSA establish a dedicated group to assess what healthy light exposure looks like and to draw up UK guidelines.

In 2022, a report by the University of Exeter identified a shift in the kind of lighting technologies European countries are using at night to brighten streets and buildings, and raised concerns over the negative consequences for human health and the wider environment.

Chief among the health consequences of blue light is its ability to suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep patterns in humans and other organisms.

Numerous scientific studies have warned that increased exposure to artificial blue light can worsen people’s sleeping habits, which in turn can lead to a variety of chronic health conditions over time.

Related: Poor sleep linked to chronic illnesses

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