A new study has warned that an increase in the use of artificial blue light across much of Europe, including the UK, could have a negative impact on human health and the environment.
With more countries adopting energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), research has suggested that previous studies on light pollution have underestimated its impact.
Satellite data in previous studies did not allow for sufficient differentiation on the effects of blue, green and red light waves, scientists, including those from the University of Exeter in the UK, said.
In the new research, published in the journal Science advances On Wednesday, scientists used images obtained by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to map differences in the spectral composition of lighting across Europe for the period between 2012-13 and 2014-2020.
From the data, the scientists said there was a “diffuse spectral shift” in artificial lighting from one connected to high-pressure sodium lights to one associated with large white LEDs with higher blue emissions.
Previous research has shown that long-term exposure to blue light is linked to “damaging effects” on a range of cells and can accelerate the aging process of the human body.
The spectral shift observed in the new study across Europe was most noticeable in the UK, Italy, Romania and Ireland, with Austria and Germany experiencing the least change.
Citing previous research evaluating the effects of artificial night light on melatonin, the hormone associated with the sleep cycle, the upward trend in artificial lighting could greatly increase the risk of harmful effects.
“Melatonin cycles are key components of circadian systems and determinants of biological time organization for a multitude of organisms, and the production of this hormone is suppressed by artificial night lighting,” the researchers wrote in the study.
Humans aren’t the only ones likely affected.
Some insects’ ability to move towards natural light is also influenced by the increasing use of artificial light, the study warns.
“Increased emissions at blue wavelengths can also alter the phototaxic response of moths and other insects to artificial night light,” the study noted, adding that some bat species could also be likely affected.
Countries such as the UK, Romania and Spain have experienced particularly high increases in these environmental risks.
Although LED technology has provided numerous benefits for public lighting, including reduced energy costs and carbon emissions, the researchers said that the spectral changes due to its increasing use are also linked to a greater likelihood of its impacts. negative biologicals.
“We find that this trend is vastly increasing the risk of damaging effects to ecosystems,” the scientists said, adding that more studies are needed to quantify the environmental risks associated with exposure to artificial night light.