A new study warns that the increase in the use of artificial blue light in large parts of Europe, including the UK, could have a negative impact on human health and the environment.
As more and more countries use energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LEDs), research suggests that previous research into light pollution had underestimated its impact.
Satellite data from previous studies have not allowed for sufficient differentiation in the effects of blue, green and red light waves, the researchers say, including researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK.
In a new study published in the journal Progress in science On Wednesday, scientists used images obtained from astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to map differences in the spectral composition of lighting in Europe between 2012-13 and 2014-20.
From the data, the researchers concluded that there was a “wide spectral shift” in artificial lighting from high pressure sodium lamp lighting to wide white LED lighting and higher blue color emission.
Previous research has shown that long-term exposure to blue light is associated with ‘harmful effects’ on a number of cells and can accelerate the aging process of the body.
The spectral shift observed in the new study across Europe was most pronounced in the UK, Italy, Romania and Ireland, with Austria and Germany experiencing the least change.
Citing previous studies examining the effects of artificial night lighting on melatonin – a hormone associated with the sleep cycle – the trend of increasing artificial lighting could significantly increase the risk of harmful effects.
“Melatonin cycles are key components of circadian systems and determinants of biological timing for many organisms, and the production of this hormone is suppressed by artificial night lighting,” the researchers wrote in the study.
Not only people can be affected by the disease.
The authors warn that a trait of some insects that tends towards natural light is also influenced by the increasing use of artificial light.
“Increasing emissions at blue wavelengths could also alter the phototactic response of moths and other insects to artificial night light,” the study noted, adding that some species of bats could also be affected.
Countries such as the United Kingdom, Romania and Spain have experienced a particularly large increase in these environmental threats.
While LED technology has brought many benefits to public lighting, including a reduction in energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers found that the spectral shifts resulting from its increasing use are also associated with an increased likelihood of its negative biological effects.
‘We found that this trend significantly increased the risk of harmful effects on ecosystems,’ said the researchers, adding that more research is needed to quantify the environmental risks associated with exposure to artificial night light.