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Artificial light can be detrimental to our health, scientists claim

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Posted May 31, 2014

Scientists at the University of Exeter claim that artificial lighting can have detrimental effects. Richard Inger and his fellows present empirical evidence, which demonstrates that it can cause numerous health issues. They urge to pay more attention to this problem.

Picture: The night of Yokohoma Minatomirai, Tokyo, Japan. Author: Luke Ma. Year: 2014.

Picture: The night of Yokohoma Minatomirai, Tokyo, Japan. Author: Luke Ma. Year: 2014. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A number of contemporary scholars emphasize that there are considerable differences between the environment, in which our ancestors evolved, and the one, in which we live now. It might be the fact that we are not adapted to our contemporary world. Inger and his colleagues claim that one of such important differences can be the widespread use of artificial lighting.

“Animal visual systems, including their temporal resolution capabilities, have evolved across vast geological timescales with stable light regimes, provided almost exclusively by variation in sunlight (including that reflected by the moon),” they write. Unsurprisingly, concerns are raised about the impact of such source of light on our health.

Numerous scientific studies were conducted and the results are not encouraging. Researchers report: “Differences have been shown to have implications for animal behaviour, reproduction and mortality, and community composition.“ One of the important features of artificial light, which is too often overlooked, is flickering. Previous studies suggest that it can produce headaches and even cause neurological symptoms.

The research also indicates that flickering makes damage not only when we perceive it, but also when we are not aware of it. We perceive it as a continuous stream, when its frequency should overcome some specific threshold, which is known as critical fusion frequency. By the way, this threshold is not universal, but species-specific.

“When we also consider that in the case of humans, flicker can produce symptoms when it cannot be perceived we suggest that, in addition, any species with a critical fusion frequency of 60 Hz (as in humans) or higher, including many other mammals, and some crustaceans, reptiles and fish, have the potential to be affected by flicker,” the researchers say.

Most of the currently used lamps are going to be replaced by fluorescent and LED lamps. However, these lamps have high flickering rate too. Consequently, the scientists from Environment and Sustainability Institute urge to give attention to this possible danger.

Article: Inger R., Bennie J., Davies T.W., Gaston K.J., 2014, Potential Biological and Ecological Effects of Flickering Artificial Light, PLos One, 9(5): e98631. doi:10. 1371/journal.pone.0098631, source link.

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