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City of Charleston leaders continued discussions June 28 about best practices and potential options for reducing light pollution in and around the city.

Skyglow, the brightening of the night sky over mostly urban areas, is a form of light pollution that can have a negative impact on the natural body rhythms in humans and animals, according to a 2022 National Geographic article. It can also affect migration patterns, wake-sleep habits and habitat formation. Sea turtles and coastal birds guided by moonlight during migration can become confused, lose their way and often die, the report says. 

The city’s director of sustainability, Katie McKain, said the city is in preliminary stages of investigating light pollution ordinances in other cities and researching what could be feasible in the Lowcountry. 

Suggested light pollution solutions included replacing street lights with models that direct light toward the ground and incorporating light ordinances to protect wildlife and reduce the impact on neighborhoods as commercial development continues. Part of the challenge, McKain explained, is ensuring that even under any ordinance that reduces the amount of light in the area, lighting requirements continue to be met. 

“It’s all about trying to find that set spot where there is too much lighting and where it could be reduced — if fixtures could be pointed downward, if we could use motion sensors or timers,” she said. 

Light pollution is a recognized issue across the country, with ordinances in effect as close to home as Traveler’s Rest and Camden in South Carolina and as far away as California. The international Dark-Sky Association (IDSA), a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce light pollution and promote responsible lighting, says city-wide ordinances are key to its goal. 

Some key facets in these ordinances include shielded lights, which reduce glow above lighting fixtures; downward-pointing fixtures, which keep lighting focused on the ground; and lighting curfews, which reduce the overall amount of lighting in an area over time.

“Doing so conserves energy and helps to minimize glare, light trespass and skyglow,” the IDSA said. 

The idea of a light pollution ordinance was brought to Charleston City Council by council member Karl Brady at a June 21 meeting. 

“As we see some commercial development occurring in and near residential areas, it struck me that we control the amount of noise that they would output and also the noise that the construction outputs,” Brady said. “But we don’t have any type of regulation on the books looking at the amount of visible light that these businesses and other residences could put off that could disturb their neighbors.”

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