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June 12, 2008

Doctor speaks out on artificial light

By Denise Richardson

Staff Writer

A Bassett Healthcare scientist studying the effects of artificial light on humans will speak at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., next week.

Dr. David E. Blask, 60, whose studies focus on cancer, said Wednesday that the government needs to address the impacts of light pollution, and his ``Combating Light Pollution'' address will raise awareness about the impacts on energy conservation, ecology and human health.

Light pollution's negative effects, as described by the International Dark-Sky Association, include energy waste, harm to humans and nocturnal wildlife, reduced night visibility and poor nighttime ambience.

Blask said he was invited by the association to present the human-health issues to staffers from the House of Representatives, the Senate and interested agencies on June 20.

``This is a serious issue,'' Blask, senior research scientist and head of the Laboratory of Chrono-Neuroendocrine Oncology at the Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, said Wednesday.

He called it a "rare and unique opportunity for a laboratory scientist such as myself" to address the government on an issue he said may have an impact on public health.

The association estimates more than $10 billion is wasted annually on unnecessary lighting, an issue to be discussed at the briefing by Lee Cooper, manager of emerging technologies at Pacific Gas & Electric in California. Travis Longcore, Ph.D., science director of The Urban Wildlands Group in California, will address the negative impacts of light pollution on the environment.

Blask said the Environmental Protection Agency has no policy on light pollution. The government needs to identify light pollution as a problem, then initiate a dialog between the EPA and other environmentally oriented agencies about the issues, he said.

Blask and his colleagues have been recognized for research on the cancer-stimulatory effects of light at night through the suppression of melatonin, a key hormone, according to a Bassett Healthcare media release. A study in 2005 by Blask and his colleagues provided evidence that light at night promotes growth of human breast cancer. The study also provided insight into why breast cancer is increasing rapidly in developing countries and industrialized societies.

According to researchers, melatonin influences the body's circadian rhythm, an internal biological clock that regulates sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, endocrine functions and a number of disease processes including heart attack, stroke and asthma.

Male and female shift workers are subject to light pollution, Blask said, and the areas of concern involve colorectal, prostate and endometrial cancers as well as breast cancer.

Blask's research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, he said, but research is at a near-standstill because funding hasn't been forthcoming,

``More research needs to be done,'' said Blask, who has a doctorate in neuroendocrinology and anatomy and has been at the Research Institute for 17 years.

Blask said the three speakers will have about 10 minutes during the hour-long briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building. The meeting is sponsored by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., along with the International Dark-Sky Association.