Although less than 1 percent of the complaints reported to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) each year deal with light pollution, leading the agency to not consider it a problem, Taiwan Dark-Sky Association chairman Axiou Lin (林正修) disagrees.
Members of the public have filed 300 to 400 light pollution complaints per year since the promulgation of the Light Pollution Control Guidelines (光污染管理指引) in March last year, the EPA has said.
While more than 50 percent of the 200,000 complaints filed with the agency each year pertain to noise pollution, Department of Air Quality Protection and Noise Control Director-General Tsai Meng-yu (蔡孟裕) said that it receives 300 to 400 light pollution complaints.
Photo courtesy of Hu Hsiu-hsing, Cingjing Sustainable Development Association
Of those, 80 percent are from the six special municipalities, with Taipei accounting for more than 50 percent of those, Tsai added.
While the EPA is the government authority in charge of dealing with light pollution, Lin said, all that the agency could come up with for combatting the issue was a set of guidelines — the Light Pollution Control Guidelines.
“Guidelines are on the last consideration as far as laws are concerned,” Lin added.
“As a mere set of guidelines, it is not on the level of an executive order or even administrative guidance, and the EPA does not allocate a budget to promote an information campaign on the need to reduce light pollution,” he added.
Most countries have a good awareness of light pollution, Lin said, adding that the International Commission on Illumination and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America have also published related protocol, such as the Five Principles for Responsible Outdoor Lighting.
“However, the Taiwanese public lacks an understanding of light pollution issues, and lags far behind international communities,” he said.
Taiwanese businesses are adverse to paying fines and oppose local governments that seek to enact light pollution laws that stipulate fines as penalties, Lin said, adding that “business owners choose to continue to damage the night sky environment, but that, in doing so, they miss out on a business advantage.”
For example, South Korea has enacted laws regulating warm color lighting at night, prompting the lighting industry to develop intelligent products, such as lamps with soft lighting for sleeping, which increase the industry’s competitiveness in the international marketplace, Lin said.
“Similar to South Korea, Taiwan is an export-dependent country, but Taiwan does not have a national standard for what makes a product an emitter of light pollution,” he said. “Meanwhile, in people’s daily lives, the EPA does not recognize that light pollution is a public hazard, even to the point of handing responsibility for it over to other government agencies.”
Lin said that the Light Pollution Control Guidelines fall short in four areas: They do not carry enough authority, they do not set a standard for colors used in lights, they do not delegate oversight power to local governments, and they do not stipulate times when lights should be turned off.
“The government provides subsidies to companies that produce blue LED lighting,” he said. “Although it does save energy, its color temperature raises light pollution levels.”
Lin urged the EPA to conduct a more in-depth evaluation of the fundamental concepts and mechanism needed for administrative oversight, to draft a “light pollution control act” that could better guide consumers on the intelligent use of illumination at night, and to add light pollution into provisions under the Public Nuisance Dispute Mediation Act (公害糾紛處理法).
Taipei Amateur Astronomers Association chairman Liu Chih-an (劉志安) said that light pollution is seen as a lesser form of pollution, without immediate effect on human health, but it really affects the natural environment and the ecosystem.
For example, the Czech Republic in 2002 passed light pollution laws that require street lighting to have reflectors that prevent light from being emitted horizontally outward, making it the first nation in the world to say: “No,” to night-time pollution from artificial lighting, Liu said.
“Hong Kong is considered to have the most serious light pollution in the world,” Liu said. “But even there, they established standards for outdoor lighting sources in 2012.”
“The standard is to be used to assess the scattering of night-time lighting and its influence on the surrounding neighborhood,” Liu said.
“In 2016, Hong Kong initiated a Charter on External Lighting, where participating businesses switched off their lights after 11pm,” he added.
In 2016, South Korea enacted the Act on the Prevention of Light Pollution due to Artificial Lighting, which allows the enforcement of brightness levels for street lighting, decorative lighting, advertising lighting, and illumination for digital multimedia and signboards, with those who exceed the levels facing fines of up to 10 million won (US$8,456), Liu said.
“For large infrastructure construction and land development projects in Taiwan, an environmental impact assessment is needed, which evaluates how the planned project would affect the environment, but it does not take light pollution into account,” Liu said.
Light pollution should be considered when these assessments are conducted, and the government should regulate it in the same way that the Air Pollution Control Act (空氣污染防制法) regulates air pollution and the Noise Control Act (噪音管制法) regulates noise pollution, he said.
The existing Light Pollution Control Guidelines mainly serves as a reference when government agencies receive complaints from the public, he said.
“It lacks the power of enforcement, and has no set regulation on the control of illumination devices,” Liu added.
“Right now, the Taiwanese public is at an early stage of awareness regarding light pollution issues. The government should implement laws to regulate it, just like for air and noise pollution, setting up legal provisions as a basis for penalties and imposing fines,” he added.
Light pollution is known to have an adverse effect on the natural environment: It induces abnormal growth in plants, hurts agricultural production, interferes with the behavior of nocturnal creatures, and even endangers human health, he said.
“A provision regulating light pollution should be added as the final component of environmental impact assessments,” he said. “Only in doing so can we have complete protection for Taiwan’s environment.”
Tsai said that a “Light Pollution Control Guidelines 2.0” could provide measurements for brightness, contrast, lighting angles and flicker frequency, among other evaluation criteria.
“Drafting a law to control light pollution is also a possibility, but right now we are still collecting all of the information needed for an assessment,” he added.
Ophthalmologist Shen Jen-hsiang (沈仁翔) said that brighter LED lights have a higher proportion of blue light, which produce glare at that wavelength and can interfere with people’s biological clocks.
There have been reports in Hong Kong of large LED panels with bright illumination causing people’s eyes to tear up, as well as nearly causing traffic accidents as passing drivers are affected by the afterimage effect, he said.
Shen suggested that people use lower color temperatures and warm color lighting, which cause less damage than lighting sources with higher temperatures, which emit more blue light.
“The light source should be directed downward and not emit light horizontally, which can harm people’s eyes. When emitted in unneeded areas, lights should have reflectors to reduce their brightness and lessen the discomfort they cause to people’s eyes,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have purchased ultraviolet lamps — which are promoted for their bacteria-killing, disinfecting effects — but they have led to people sustaining eye cornea damage,” he said.
“It was a new phenomenon, as in the past ultraviolet damage only occurred in welders and people working in laboratories, but we are seeing more of these cornea damage cases,” he said, reminding the public to handle ultraviolet devices with care.
People must shield their eyes and never look directly into ultraviolet lamps, he said.
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