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A Distributive Environmental Justice Analysis of Light Pollution in the Contiguous United States

Authors: Shawna Nadybal*, University of Utah, Geography, Dr. Timothy Collins, University of Utah, Geography, Dr. Sara Grineski, University of Utah, Sociology
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Light pollution, Environmental hazards, Vulnerability, Environmental justice, United States
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The excessive presence of artificial light at night is a well-documented hazard to human health. Exposure to artificial light at night can disrupt biological processes necessary for the maintenance of the circadian rhythm and the production of melatonin; this can lead to increased risk for cancer diagnoses, accelerated tumor growth, increased risk for obesity and its accompanying health effects, as well as severe retinal degeneration. Because of these health repercussions and the inequitable distributions documented with respect to other environmental hazards, it is surprising that scholars have not previously analyzed light pollution from an environmental justice perspective. This study is the first to examine neighborhood relationships between sociodemographic characteristics and light pollution exposure, and focuses on testing for socially disparate patterns of exposure at the census tract level across the contiguous United States. We use generalized estimating equations (GEEs) techniques, which control for other variables known to influence light pollution and geographic clustering, to analyze data from the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute and the Earth Observation Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Data. Sociodemographic data for census tracts come from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-year estimates. Results indicate that census tracts with higher proportions of racial/ethnic minority and socioeconomically deprived residents experience disproportionate exposure to light pollution, highlighting potentially disparate environmental health burdens not previously documented in the environmental justice literature.

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