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Greens Cite Cancer Risk in Call to Dim Lights

Peter So and Tiffany Lam, SCMP – Updated on Dec 08, 2008

More than 1,300 street lights on residential buildings are a cancer risk for residents, a green group has warned.

Friends of the Earth said it wants the government to speed up efforts to reduce their glare and, while conceding that about 600 of a total of 1,900 lights attached to buildings had been refitted with flat-glass enclosures to reduce glare, the group said that only nine had been fitted with side panels.

The group said there were still many residents suffering disturbed sleep because of inescapable lights illuminating their bedrooms.

A physiologist has said chronic exposure to night light disrupted humans’ biological clocks and damaged their immune systems.

At worst, people suffering chronic exposure were at risk of developing cancers of the breast, gastrointestinal tract, prostate, womb and cervix, Pang Shiu-fun, a retired physiology professor formerly of the University of Hong Kong, has been quoted as saying in medical reports.

According to Highways Department figures, about 1,900 streetlights are fixed to buildings in the city. Of those, about 1,300 are attached to residential blocks, mainly in Wan Chai, Central, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said the government had promised in September that all offending lights would be refitted within a year.

He said, however, only nine streetlights attached to buildings had been fitted with side panels. “The progress is simply too slow.” Mr Chu wondered why the government had been so slow, as the cost of light refits was minimal.

The green group recently conducted a survey on the impact of streetlights on residents. One respondent surnamed Au-yeung – an elderly man living in Wan Chai with a streetlight fixed outside his flat – said it illuminated his bedroom all night despite thick curtains. Mr Au-yeung said he hardly slept more than four hours a night and often woke up because of the strong light.

“I started with half a pill to put me to sleep. Now I have to have 1-1/2 pills,” Mr Au-yeung said, adding he had once collapsed in his living room after overdosing on sleeping pills and ended up in hospital.

Mr Chu said many residents simply put up with the glare or were confused about to whom to complain, so recorded complaints about street lighting had remained low. He said complaints could be made to the Environmental Protection Department on 2838 3111 or to the Highways Department on 2926 4111.

A Highways Department spokesman said it had received 10 complaints about street lights in the first eight months of this year, adding that the department would assess the 10 lights’ effect on residents. If necessary, it would relocate lights, refit them with complete flat-glass lanterns or install side panels.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of the green group, urged the government to speed up legislation to regulate light pollution.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said yesterday billboards with unnecessarily bright lights were “a waste”. He said the government had approached businesses about light pollution.

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