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Korea’s Light Pollution: the Reverse Side of its Beauty

Imagine the bright lights of cities at night. How beautiful and inviting the lights are! These beautiful lights, however, have a scary reverse side, light pollution. Light pollution gives negative effects not only for humans but also for nature. Many people, however, do not know about its seriousness. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) now explains about what light pollution is, its seriousness in Korea, and informs of Korea’s efforts and limitations to prevent light pollution such as the introduction of new institutions and technologies.

Explanations about Light Pollution
Definition of Light Pollution
Light pollution is a kind of environmental pollution which occurs through excessive artificial illuminations that people use. It is a phenomenon where the bright conditions of daytime continues even at night because of the immoderately bright artificial lights.
Light pollution is especially serious in the city due to its dense population; however, it also exists in the suburbs and in the countryside. The main causes of light pollution are the electronic displays of stores, car lights, and excessive artificial illuminations from residential areas. As the use of electronic devices like smartphones and televisions increases, the excessive use of these also adds to the causes of light pollution. These days, fine dust and yellow dust have started to aggravate the light pollution issue. This is because light scatters and makes the city brighter after being reflected by the particles in the air. Contrary to these drawbacks, artificial lights can be used for crime prevention and cultural policy. From a cultural aspect, artificial lights make isolated regions more active and give them economic revenue by holding light festivals. In addition, opening historical sites like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace at night contributes to the revival of citizens’ interests toward cultural properties. Although artificial light is useful as in these examples, the excessive use of lights is still the problem.
Accordingly, the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) regulates light intensity following four types of environmental zones.

In reality, however, most areas in Korea exceed this regulation.
The display brightness of smartphones is approximately 80 cd at the minimum and 500 cd at the maximum brightness. Brightness of residential LED televisions is about 4000 cd, about ten times brighter than that of smartphones. What is worse, the outdoor electronic displays exceed 8000 cd and since they are located all over the city, it creates an enormous amount of light pollution.

Seriousness of Korea’s Light Pollution
According to the World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness of Science Advances examined by American, German and Italian joint researchers, Korea is classified as a country where light pollution is extremely serious. As a result of analyzing the photos taken at night from 30,000 places in the world for the last ten years, Korea ranked second among the G20 nations as a serious light polluting nation. In Korea, the light pollution affects about 89% of the whole territory.

Among Korea’s downtown buildings, more than 70% of them already exceed the brightness standard and 87% of displays contravened the light pollution regulation.
As light pollution caused by external environments such as shop lights and electronic display lights is serious, light pollution of residential areas is also severe. According to the last year’s light pollution i m p a c t r e s u l t s , 4 0 % o f residential areas exceed the artificial lighting and radiation emission standards. Consequently, Korea’s light pollution is increasing by about 6% annually, and civil complaints toward light pollution are also increasing. As a result of the real state of civil complaints regarding light pollution in the past three years, there were more than 3000 complaints each year. The number of complaints made in Seoul was the highest and most of them were caused by disturbed sleep, damage of crops, inconvenience of life and glare.

Various Problems Caused by Light Pollution
Health Issues
•Risk of Breast Cancer and Other Diseases
When the adequate amount of darkness that the body needs is deficient, secretion of melatonin, the sleeping hormone, is suppressed.
Because secretion of melatonin is closely related with estrogen, estrogen secretion increases as the melatonin level decreases. Increase in estrogen secretion leads to a higher risk of breast cancer. According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) which traced about 50,000 Norwegian nurses for 17 years, the risk of breast cancer also increased as the days of night shifts were increased. Among the nurses who worked for more than five years, nurses who worked on night duty for four days in a row were 1.4 times more vulnerable to breast cancer and nurses who worked at night for six days in a row were 1.8 times more at risk. Despite the fact that the body requires darkness during the night, nurses were exposed to artificial illuminations all night long so their biorhythms were destroyed. In addition, a research project implemented in Israel in 2014 also showed that the breast cancer risk of women who lived in the areas where light pollution was more serious was 73% higher.
Accordingly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), affiliated to the WHO, designated light pollution as a carcinogen which causes cancer in the human body. Besides, sleep disorders, cognitive dysfunction, obesity and depression can be caused by light pollution too. When interior illumination only exceeds 5 lux (unit of lighting brightness), the quality of sleep becomes worse and cognitive function can be affected even until the next day. These results show that light pollution can have a serious impact on our health.

Harmful to Natural Ecosystem
•Disturbance in Growth and Harvest of Crops
Excessive artificial illumination causes leaf blight and it influences the growth of crops. Last year, the Environmental Dispute Resolution Commission, affiliated with the Ministry of Environment, decided that the Korea Rail Network Authority should give compensation to a farmer whose perilla crop yield decreased by 85% because of the artificial illumination of the railroad station. This was the first case of officially acknowledging that crops can be damaged through light pollution. According to the research by the National Institute of Crop Science, the production amount of Asian rice is generally lowered to 16% and that of perilla, the most vulnerable crop to light pollution, is lowered to 94% due to serious light pollution.

•Causing Chaos for Animals
Light pollution has a bad effect not only on plants but also on animals. Green turtles which find habitat near the ocean through moonlight now have difficulty finding their home due to artificial illuminations. Furthermore, the illusion of time due to light pollution causes disturbances in the ecosystem such as faster spawning of frogs. Like this, light pollution often causes chaos to the natural ecosystem.

Conflicts between Communities in the Region
Light pollution is considered to be one of the main reasons of conflicts along with noise these days. For example, the residents who live in lower story apartments are bothered by the light of cars that comes into their homes and residents of closely located residential areas like one-room buildings suffer from the light from neighbors’ televisions or other fluorescent lights at night.

•Light of Church
Recently, there were some conflicts between neighbors who suffered from the light of churches’ crosses and other religious symbols. As churches are usually located near residential areas, the strong light enters the houses and the residents become outraged and even file civil complaints. In Korea, however, these kinds of conflict cases have been left as unsolved problems since there are no regulations on lights for religious purposes.

•Baseball Stadium
In 2015, a lawsuit was filed based on the noise and light pollution between Gwangju-Kia Champions Field and the residents who lived nearby. Whenever the professional baseball season began, the residents of the nearby apartments filed a lawsuit, claiming that they were suffering from the noise and strong lighting of the field. In the case of light pollution, there was no household which exceeded Korea’s discomfort glare index of 36 among the 32 households surveyed. Residents, however, are claiming that the discomfort glare index should be 22 like other foreign countries.
In other words, a gap exists between the domestic light pollution standards of the government and that of citizens. For reference, the artificial lighting is limited to 3 lux in the United States and 1 lux in Germany in residential areas, while Korea regards light pollution if only the light on the vertical surface of a residential window exceeds 10 lux or more. It is expected that the results of the lawsuit filed against the baseball stadium that have been unsolved for three years will be released this year.

Limitations and Possible Ways to Go
Korea’s Act to Decrease Light Pollution and Its Limitations
•Act on the Prevention of Light Pollution
This is an act that has been implemented since 2013 in Korea. It contains articles that state that the metropolitan councils should establish light pollution prevention plans and governors have to manage the areas where light pollution occurs depending on its seriousness. Although this act seemed to be well implemented at the beginning, it became obsolete due to several issues. First of all, the budget to support this act was cut by \200 million in 2013 and \35 million in 2016. Furthermore, if an area is not designated as a lighting environment management area, it is not regulated at all, even though an area might exceed the light emission standard. Unfortunately, the number of local governments that designated the lighting environment management area in Korea is only one, Seoul. Therefore, light pollution is not managed at all even though the act exists.

•Incomplete Compensation of Light Pollution Damage
There is an act based on which the government compensates citizens who have suffered from serious light pollution, acknowledging that light pollution is an obvious pollution. The compensation, however, is not being properly implemented due to chaos derived from unclear criteria. In addition, according to the survey conducted on 1,600 Gyeonggi-do residents, only 1% of citizens and 5.3% of farmers knew about this system. Meanwhile, the Korean government announced that it will designate 50% of the whole country as a lighting environment management area and cut the light pollution standard of 2013 in half by 2018. Citizens should carefully watch whether the government’s pledge is implemented or not.

Introduction of New Plans and Technology
•Jongno-gu’s Castle Town Light Environment Improvement Project
Since May 2017, Jongno-gu started to undertake a new light environment improvement project. In the case of existing diffusional security lighting, as the light spreads in every direction, the ground was rather dark and vulnerable to safety although the sky was bright. Accordingly, Jongno-gu established the plan of changing the whole 525 lighting fixtures in Castle Town into a cutoff type LED lighting which shines light in a downward direction. The ultimate purpose of this project is to decrease light pollution and prevent additional crimes.

• Selection of Internet of Things (IoT) Based Situational Recognition Lighting Technology
Last March, the Korea Institute of Science Technology Evaluation and Planning (KISTEP) s e l e c t e d t h i s n e w lighting technology as one of the top 10 h o p e f u l p o l l u t i o n prevention technologies for sustainable development. This lighting automatically controls the brightness, color, and angle of light according to an individual’s movement, sound, age, gender and even environmental changes like season and climate. KISTEP considers this technology’s economic effect in the dimming technology market will be \4 trillion in the European market by 2020. This is because web based lighting will not only decrease light pollution but also lead to a saving of energy by automatically controlling the light.

• Introduction of Video Luminance Measurement and Spectrophotometer Technology
A spectrophotometer is a device used to measure luminous intensity. An optical instrument enterprise, Hi-Land Korea, introduced a system which enables the recording and analyzing of two-dimensional luminance that could not be measured before. By measuring this luminance, it will be possible for humans to directly identify the effects of light pollution on the human body or other organisms. Additionally, this technology enables humans to measure specific lighting wavelength waves that help plant growth. Therefore, this will contribute to a decrease of light pollution damage to the ecosystem. This technology was utilized for the Seoul environmental pollution and Impact Assessment by Seoul Metropolitan City and the Ministry of Environment. Even now, institutes, concerning the Korea’s light pollution, such as the Korea Institute of Lighting Technology(KILT) and the National Institute of Environmental Research(NIER) are using this technology.

What can Kingos do to reduce and prevent light pollution? Here are few easy and effective methods. First of all, reduce the use of electronic devices like smartphones at least an hour before sleeping to protect the body from intense light. Secondly, yellowish light bulbs would be better for bedroom lighting as the white light bulbs have blue wavelengths that suppress melatonin secretion. Finally, try to consciously reduce the useless artificial illuminations not only for yourself but also for nature and your neighbors. Above all, remember that light pollution is one of the several threatening disasters that industrialization has brought.

강가은  ge0923@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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