174-12.1 Outdoor Illumination

Proposed Updates to Reduce Light Pollution
Dark Sky Fixtures

Growing research proves the harmful effects of light pollution. Now, many state and municipal laws and regulations are evolving to decrease light pollution. The Southborough Planning Board is committed to increasing public safety and protecting wild-life by decreasing light pollution though amendments to the town’s lighting bylaw 174-12.1 Outdoor Illumination.

The Planning Board began discussing potential bylaw updates in April 2019. The board created the Lighting Bylaw Working Group (Marnie Hoolahan, Board Member, Destin Heilman, PhD, Consultant, and Sarah Hoecker, Planning Staff) to vet current best practices and develop draft revisions. In January 2020, a public hearing opened for the proposed Warrant Article. Due to the international pandemic the Warrant Article was tabled until this year. In February 2021, a new public hearing opened. The current Warrant Article language is attached below along with other resources. (Please see News & Announcements for all Public Hearing information.)

As early as the 1970s Astronomers noted the effects of light pollution. They recognized it had become challenging to view the stars with the same clarity, even with their most powerful instruments. Only a few hundred stars can be seen from a typical American suburb, in most cities it is only a few dozen, while at least 2,500 stars should be visible under normal nighttime conditions. However, the negative effects of light pollution go far beyond limited visibility.

Research on insects, turtles, birds, fish, reptiles and other wild-life species shows that light pollution can alter behaviors, foraging areas, and breeding cycles, and not just in urban centers but in rural areas as well. Light pollution disturbs human circadian rhythm leading to sleep disorders. The body produces melatonin levels drop dramatically in the presence of artificial or natural light. Numerous studies suggest that decreasing nocturnal melatonin production levels increases an individual’s risk for developing cancer. In 2016 the American Medical Association issued guidance on the reduction of light pollution to support human health.  

Links to MA state legislation and regulatory/advocacy organizations:

https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H2858     

https://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/states-s...

https://www.darksky.org/       https://www.ies.org/

Proposed bylaw Section 174-12.1, Rules & Regulations and informational articles: