In 2001, even with Boston only 40 miles to the north, the southeastern Massachusetts towns of Plympton, Plymouth, and Middleborough were dark and remote compared to surrounding towns. Carolyn and Barry DeCristofano moved to the area primarily for this reason. According to the Boston Globe, when it started getting brighter, they wanted to do something about the light pollution. Their efforts started with educating their neighbors and they led the charge to get a dark skies ordinance adopted in their town.
Light pollution occurs when humans introduce an excessive amount of artificial light into the environment. Areas that were once dark in Massachusetts are now being replaced with brightly-lit parking lots and street lights. This can cause a disastrous effect for both humans and other animals. For humans, it obscures the view of stars, disrupts sleep, and can cause safety hazards for drivers. This past August, NPR even discussed light pollution in Light Pollution and ‘The End Of Night.’
Kelly Beaty, member of the board of directors of the International Dark-Sky Association, and chairman of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group, says that light directed at the ground does not waste energy since it is only directed where it is needed. When half the light is above the horizon, it hits people directly in the eye as well as contributes to light pollution. Beaty has been active in a 20-year effort to pass a state law regulating outdoor lighting.
In 2003, Plympton residents voted to pass a lighting bylaw that requires commercial and municipal lighting to have full cut-off fixtures and shields that direct light towards the ground. Regulations similar to this were already in place in nearby Plymouth and Norwell. The New England Light Pollution Advisory Group says that more than 40 communities in the commonwealth have instituted dark skies bylaws since 2000, while many others are heading in that direction.
In Chelmsford, a developer building a retail center installed LED fixtures with a soft glow and lower color temperature. LED lighting with a low Kelvin temperature is easier on the eyes, inexpensive, and more efficient than blue lighting. Higher Kelvin temperatures, which produce a harsh blue light, are criticized for disrupting circadian rhythms in both humans and animals. The initial price of LED may be higher, but it’s offset by the energy savings and lower maintenance costs since many are rated for up to 100,000 hours of use.
In urban areas, the stars have already disappeared. Without legislation, many believe that night skies—even in the most remote areas of Massachusetts—will continue to disappear due to light pollution.