Light endangers health

While I was glad to see your story on the Tonsler Park tennis court lights [March 31: "Tonsler Turn-off: neighbors want lights out"], I was disappointed that reporter Courteney Stuart made no mention of the reason I began to press the matter of their glare with the City in October 2003.

Although those lights– which until then had flared far and wide from sundown to 10 pm 365 nights a year since their installation– had bothered me all along, I was galvanized to push for their turn-off by emerging research on the relationship between such lighting and cancer, and particularly breast cancer in women.

Reports had been surfacing for at least a decade by then. In 1998, a journalist quoted a neuroendocrinologist from the University of Texas as saying that "light is a drug" and "by abusing it, we risk imperiling our health."

More recently, that message has been intensified by work at institutions like Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University, which sponsors a center that studies the medical implications of light in all forms. It was coverage of a paper presented by a neuroscientist from that center at the 2003 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that focussed my concern.

Much remains to be learned. Essentially, however, the problem is that human beings are hardwired for a certain amount of downtime completely free from stimuli like light. When we don't get that respite, our manufacture of a crucial protective substance called melatonin is surpressed, and we're left extra vulnerable to life-threatening disease.

But that's far from the only problem inappropriate light can cause. To note just one other, it's been found that children who sleep with nightlights on– or with outdoor lights setting their bedrooms aglow– are more likely to become nearsighted than children who rest in true dark.

Anyone who wants to explore this subject can do so easily by asking Google for: light pollution + cancer. Meanwhile, I would just state the obvious: Whether you consider lights like those at Tonsler Park and Pen Park "amenities" or affronts, they're bad for us all.

Antoinette W. Roades
Charlottesville VA

awroades@cs.com

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