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Can Light Pollution Contribute to Air Pollution?

Night Lights

Light pollution linked to air pollution? Sounds strange, but research shows that limiting lights at nighttime and directing lights downward not only helps reduce the sky glow that interferes with star gazing, it also helps reduce air pollution! A new study by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences found that lights at night interfere with chemical reactions that clean the air naturally during nighttime hours.

How does excess outdoor lighting affect air pollution? Nitrate radicals are like the PacMan of air pollution particles. These special radicals, a form of nitrogen oxide, hang around during the dark hours and break down, or scavenge, the chemicals that become air pollution. Unfortunately, the light of the sun and upward outside nighttime lights destroy these naturally occurring nitrate radicals.

See what you can do to be smart with nighttime outdoor lighting to reduce air pollution and make it easier to see the stars. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) states that dark sky friendly lighting does not mean a dark ground, so safety need not be compromised. Below is a list of practical actions pulled from IDA’s Practical Guide: Introduction to Light Pollution information sheet.

Actions You Can Take

Use light only when and where it’s needed. Turn off lights when they are not needed and create a curfew for lights-out. Minimize interim light use with timers and motion detectors.
Use only as much light as needed. Over lighting reduces the eye’s ability to see outside of the lit area. In addition, excess light can produce glare, which also reduces visibility. Selecting the correct lamp wattage for your needs increases safety and reduces costs.
Shine lights down, not up. A well-designed fixture will direct the light where it’s needed most—at the ground. Select new fixtures that are fully shielded; retrofit or replace poor quality fixtures.
Use efficient light sources for outdoor lighting around homes and businesses. Consider a compact fluorescent for good, energy efficient, economical lighting—a low-wattage lamp gives plenty of light for most properties and applications.

Not only will your night sky friendly actions help keep our air clean, but they will make it easier for both amateur and professional star gazers to continue to see some world-class amazing and exciting images.

Find out more with the following resources:
International Dark Sky Association, 22 Dec. 2010 <http://www.darksky.org>
Amos, Jonathan. “City lighting ‘boosts pollution’.” BBC News, 14 Dec. 2010 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11990737>.
Jenkins, Amy Lou. “Light pollution even more detrimental than scientist previously thought.” Examiner.com, 15 Dec. 2010 <http://www.examiner.com/green-living-in-national/light-pollution-even-more-detrimental-than-scientist-thoughts>.


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