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Light and noise pollution ‘are neglected health hazards’, say peers

Light and noise are “neglected pollutants” that are causing significant harm to human health and can cause premature deaths, a group of peers have said.

The science and technology committee of the House of Lords has called on ministers to do more to tackle these pollutants, which it claims are “poorly understood and poorly regulated”.

A total of 130,000 healthy years of life are lost to noise pollution in the UK each year alone, according to data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), with 40% of Britons exposed to unhealthy levels of road traffic noise, said the committee’s chair, Lady King.

Research on the health effects of light pollution is less developed, but it too can disrupt circadian rhythms and sleep, with potential social and economic consequences. Sleep disturbance is estimated to cost the UK economy £34bn a year, and both light and noise pollution are contributing factors.

“Not only can they cause annoyance, impacting quality of life, but through the disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms, both noise and light pollution can contribute to heart disease and premature death,” said King.

“While the increased risk to an individual may be low, the exposure of millions of people results in a significant aggregate health burden.”

Recent studies have also suggested that exposure to artificial light at night may impair glucose and cardiovascular regulation and potentially increase the risk of heart disease or diabetes.

Light pollution is not currently well measured in the UK, but evidence from satellite data and citizen science projects suggests it has increased significantly since the rollout of LEDs, the report said.

The American Medical Association has previously warned of the health and environmental impacts from “white” LED streetlights, advising the installation of dimmer or warmer-coloured outdoor lighting instead.

The committee called for the establishment of an expert advisory group on noise – as already exists for air pollution – to provide independent advice to the government and assess emerging evidence. It also recommended that UKHSA establish a dedicated group to assess what healthy light exposure looks like, and to draw up UK guidelines.

King said: “We are concerned that there are no specific targets for regulating light and noise pollution, and a lack of coordination between departments, and between central and local government, which is preventing the government from tackling these problems.

“The government should focus on quantifying the health effects of noise and light pollution, set targets and a framework for regulation to reduce the overall burden of disease.”

Source: Linda Geddes, Science correspondent, Yahoo Style UK


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