Starry Nights and Breast Cancer

Well. I'm going to have to break out the old 35mm if I'm going to get a picture to illustrate this one. My apologies!

It all started when I read an article in the Asheville Citizen Times (lifted from USA Today) about light pollution. I started reading the article because my old home in Georgia had quite a lot of it, and my new home in North Carolina does not. I noticed, because you just can't help but look at the stars sometimes when you're out roasting hotdogs on a late summer night. And the stars in Western North Carolina will take your breath away!

So this article goes on to talk about different municipalities and states which are supporting what is termed "Dark Sky" legislation. Some of the reasons are purely economic--less and/or more efficient lighting means lower power bills for the state and local governments paying those bills. (Gee, this seems like a good time to make a cut here, whaddaya think?) Some have to do with national security. The military likes its western United States bases because "lights at night can interfere with military drills. Trying to simulate flying over remote parts of Afghanistan is difficult when skies are aglow from city-light glare."

Then there are the health issues. Night lighting is disruptive to many species, but I'm not even going to get into that. Let's talk about the Human Species.

The first shocker I found had to do with breast cancer. [!!!!!] Researchers found, in different studies, correlations between exposure to lighting at night (LAN) and higher incidences of breast cancer. (My heartfelt appreciation for the open access to research thanks to the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.) There was no correlative effect between LAN and lung cancer. Rather, it is the cancers impacted by hormonal activity that react to the nighttime lighting. Even small amounts of "darkness interrupters" had an impact. Electronic devices give off enough light to cause hormonal disruption. A TV in your bedroom can mess with more than your sex life. We are one of the species disrupted by LAN.

Then there's the air pollution. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado stumbled on some complex chemistry impacting air quality. Now, me--I like it when good things happen that don't need my supervision. So this following statement was one of those Oh, Goody! sorts of things.

Every night, chemicals from vehicle exhaust and other human created sources are broken down and prevented from becoming smog, ozone, or other irritants by a form of nitrogen oxide called the nitrate radical. Sunlight destroys the naturally occurring nitrate radical, so this process occurs only in hours of darkness. 

So radicals are scrubbing the air at night. Our grandparents were right when they said there was something different about the "night air." But with all the artificial lighting we have, what used to be usual is no more. "Findings indicate that uplight from outdoor lighting that contributes to sky glow over cities also interferes with chemical reactions that naturally clean the air during nighttime hours."

As someone who has struggled with asthma, and has listened to far too many kids wheezing, clean air is an Issue. If adjusting streetlights to direct light down can reduce the impact of those lights on our natural air scrubbers--for pete's sake, why not?

To learn more about Dark Sky legislation, go to darksky.org. But turn off your extra lights, first. And sleep well!

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Nude On the Rocks

Nude On the Rocks