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GUEST COLUMN: Light, noise pollution are growing hazards

'We can all follow similar principles' to lessen our effects on environment, says Oro-Medonte resident
Stock image.

The following was submitted by Oro-Medonte resident Dan Parle, who is a semi-retired journalist, editor and writer with an interest in environmental issues. He is also a volunteer with Quiet Parks International.

In a world struggling with serious environmental issues such as global warming, there are two growing problems that are rarely considered or mentioned: light and noise pollution.

Yet these two serious hazards to both people and wildlife are among the easiest environmental issues to understand and correct, if only they were better understood by our government and our communities.

With each passing year, more and more artificial light pours into our natural world, washing out our ability to see and enjoy the stars and rising moon. Worse, light pollution confuses nocturnal birds, bats, insects and even newly hatched sea turtles seeking the edge of the sea for the first time.

Fish and other aquatic life are also disturbed by waterfront lights. A simple online search by anyone on the harmful effects of light pollution will illuminate a wealth of scientific research that appears to be ignored. Why?

Noise pollution may be an even more serious and all-pervasive toxin in our lives because it is invisible. It is no coincidence that all animal species hear — in the natural world, sound carries information about how to find food, the presence of predators, and is a means to attract a mate as well as to establish a territory required to feed the young.

Our imposed noise limits, if they exist, do not consider wildlife needs. One example: Orcas, also known as killer whales, are finding it increasingly difficult to communicate and hunt with their echolocation abilities because the sounds of ship engines are drowning them out. Whales send out sounds and then interpret the echo — an animal version of radar.

Furthermore, noise limits in our communities do not properly consider the tens of thousands of medical research articles that describe the deleterious health impacts on humans that are known to occur at noise levels below those that cause hearing loss.

The World Health Organization has even calculated the number of millions of human life years lost each year due to the presence of transportation noise in Western Europe alone — 1.6 million years and rising. Humans exposed to chronic noise exhibit increased anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, and increased risk of cardiovascular disorders and more.

I grew up in the east end of Hamilton, a noisy, light-drenched, working-class suburb where most fathers toiled in the nearby steel mills or related industries. I have lived in several parts of Canada, but eventually settled in Oro-Medonte because I wanted to live somewhere quiet where I could see the stars in the sky.

Unfortunately, the development and misuse of LED lighting has made it possible to light up the exterior of your home at little expense in electricity. Many houses in Oro-Medonte are now brightly lit all night, perhaps reflecting pride of ownership but unknowingly harming the environment.

Stock image. Photo by Skitterphoto via Pexels

Fortunately, I have good relations with my neighbours and we work out any mutual concerns. Two or three voluntarily cut back and/or changed their outdoor lighting when I expressed my concerns.

The DarkSky International five principles of responsible lighting are:

Useful — Before installing or replacing a light, determine whether the light is needed. Consider how the use of light will impact the area, including wildlife and the environment. Consider using reflective paints or self-luminating markers for signs, curbs and steps to reduce the need for permanently installed outdoor lighting.

Targeted — Light should be directed to where it is needed. Use shielding and careful aiming to target the direction of the light beam so it points downward and does not spill beyond where it is needed.

Low light levels — Illumination should be no higher than necessary. Use the lowest light level required. Be mindful of surface conditions, as some surfaces may reflect more light into the night shy than was intended.

Controlled — Light should be used only when it is useful. Use controls such as timers or motion detectors to ensure light is available when it is needed, dimmed when possible and turned off when not needed.

Colour — Limit the amount of shorter wavelength (blue-violet) light to the least amount needed. Light where you need it, when you need it, in the amount needed, and no more.

We can all follow similar principles when it comes to the noise we make. I have friends who live in subdivisions who say, in the warmer months, there is not a daylight moment when a leaf blower, lawn mower or chain saw is not roaring. As these machines wear out, we can replace them with electric versions that are far quieter and have a much smaller carbon footprint. Enjoy motor sports if that is your thing, but maintain and install good mufflers systems so the growl of your engines does not disturb wildlife and humans.

About six months ago, a colleague and I made a well-received deputation about these issues to Oro-Medonte council, suggesting easy changes that could lessen the impact of light and noise pollution. I have not seen any related changes yet, but municipal governments move slowly.

I told council people are often surprised to learn noise and light pollution are harmful. Some public education and discussion are called for. Hence this column.

Most important of all as we navigate these and other pressing environmental issues: Let’s be kind and considerate to each other.


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