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Sunday, March 26, 2023
FairfaxOpinionLetter: Light pollution impacting wildlife, quality of life

Letter: Light pollution impacting wildlife, quality of life

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Editor: Turner Farm Observatory Park is well along in the process of getting its Urban Night Sky Place designation from the International Dark Sky Association, that recognizes places near, or in the midst of, urban areas that promote an authentic dark-sky experience.

Fairfax County Park Authority is leading the effort, which needs adjacent neighborhoods to adopt the dark-sky-friendly outdoor lighting practices that protect our view of the night sky.

Light pollution has exponentially increased over the past 70 years, unnoticed by too many. For those of us who remember Fairfax County in the 1970s or even earlier, this change is profoundly disturbing.

Our outdoor lighting is damaging the environment and natural habitats of the plants, insects and animals living in this county. Light is trespassing into neighbors homes and yards and interfering with nocturnal animals and nocturnal pollinators. Enjoying the lightning bugs in the summer and backyard astronomy have fallen victim to too many lights.


The Fairfax County government has made light pollution one of its environmental priorities for years, and thankfully is emerging as a leader among municipalities recognizing and addressing this issue. By creating and updating the county outdoor-lighting ordinances, they serve to improve the quality of life of every resident.

A quick drive around the Tysons area, now with its urban feel, out towards Great Falls Park, reveals how outdoor home lighting over the decades has changed.

Homes built in the 1960s typically have one front-door light fixture, of a modest size and casting warm yellow light. Maybe an additional fixture near the garage. The 1970s and ’80s homes tend to have two fixtures by the front door with some additional fixtures added later.

New and renovated homes now sport five, six, seven or more fixtures with bright white LED bulbs and unshielded fixtures.

Light trespass is not specifically covered under the current codes for much of residential lighting. The current codes as written create the potential for unpleasant surprises when new projects are completed involving outdoor lighting. Homeowners and builders unwittingly are installing lighting which does not meet the codes, nor is considerate to neighbors.

The increase in lights are encroaching into our ecologically sensitive parkland, our homes, our backyards and our night sky. Additional lights are now turning quiet, relatively dark suburban neighborhoods into urban-like ones, with the sky glow too many lights bring. A sad loss not only for the children growing up in this county, but for everyone.

Light pollution is among the simplest and easiest to fix with positive effects. Among them are saving money, benefits to environmental and human health and reduced energy consumption. The International Dark Sky Association has been promoting intelligent, considerate lighting solutions for decades.

Actions we can take to reduce the harmful effects of blue light on the night sky:

• Be aware that light pollution reduces our ability to see features in the night sky.

• Reduce light pollution by using outdoor lighting only when and where needed; ensure light does not spill upwards or into unintended areas; and select amber or warm-white sources over those with higher blue emissions, and have it fully shielded (pointing downward).

Modify the lighting of communities, parks, reserves and sanctuaries so that they meet international standards for good outdoor lighting practice set out in the Dark Sky Places Program.

As a county, we need to do better to educate people about neighbor-friendly and considerate outdoor lighting – be that neighbor human, plant, animal or celestial object.

E. Kragie, Great Falls

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