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Spotlight Shines on Light Pollution

Stargazers have complained for years because cities shine so much light into the night sky that stars disappear behind the gray glow.

Now researchers are beginning to worry that light pollution - the artificial brightening of our nights - is creating problems for wildlife and possibly even human health.

Indeed, a series of studies in the past decade has led some scientists to investigate whether there may be an association between light pollution and cancer, especially breast cancer.

"It could potentially be a problem," said David E. Blask, professor of structural and cellular biology at Tulane University. "All of us are exposed to some light at night, so it really is an issue for everybody."

Robert Wagner of Kansas City, who has become a leader in fighting local light pollution, said most people are not aware of the problem.

"Ninety percent of any law we pass will be education," Wagner said. "When people realize there is better lighting that won't annoy your neighbor or impair your driving on a road, they will want it."

Wagner is part of an international dark-sky movement that has been pushing state and local leaders to pass laws to control light pollution.

Some cities have taken dramatic steps. As part of a broader development ordinance, Kansas City could pass light pollution restrictions as early as next month.

One side benefit, advocates say: Correcting light pollution could save billions of dollars a year in energy costs and also help slow climate change.

The most confounding part of light pollution is that it is so simple to fix, says Peter Strasser, senior technical adviser in Arizona for the International Dark-Sky Association.

It is as easy as designing light fixtures that are hooded so they cast light downward - not horizontally or upward. In addition, businesses and homeowners should turn off lights when they are not being used.

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