We can’t have a complete conversation about cultivation and horticulture without talking about the sun, or more specifically, talking about radiation produced by the sun. Science has long discovered that over exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation directly leads to skin cancer and other health issues, but how much do we really know? Judging by today’s overall lack of safety standards, it appears as though we still know very little. With all the data discussing the health risks created by exposure to light radiation, the cultivation industry still does very little to protect its workers. This is especially true with indoor cultivation. Artificial grow lights can produce extreme levels of radiation, yet policies prioritize sanitation over employee protection. No matter your environment, exposure to radiation in cultivation is an unavoidable reality. Whether you are in the field, a greenhouse or a grow room, light radiation exists, but that doesn’t mean we can’t protect ourselves. We want to take some time to really breakdown the reality of light risks in modern cultivation operations. This should feel like a review for more wider known facts, but hopefully we share some new information that will help you better understand the reality of light radiation in cultivation.
There are three specific spectrum of light radiation that are found in almost every cultivation:
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation (100nm-400nm): UV is the most discussed and understood.
- Visible Light (380nm-750nm): Visible light is the spectrum visible to the human eye
- Infrared (IR) radiation (700nm-1400nm): IR is mostly transmitted as heat
Let’s begin with the most well-known radiation, UV. Although all radiation between 100nm-400nm is technically Ultraviolet, that gap is broken down into 3 categories:
- UVA (315-400nm) – these rays will age skin cells and can damage their DNA. These rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers.
- UVB (280-315nm) – these rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They can damage the skin cells’ DNA directly and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
- UVC (100-280nm) – these rays have more energy that the other types of UV rays, but they don’t normally get thru our atmosphere and are not in sunlight. This type of radiation is normally used as a disinfectant with germicidal lamps.
UV is the most widely understood radiation, specifically when it comes to causes of skin cancer. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is commonly attributed to excessive exposure to UV radiation. While UV radiation is very serious and workers should be protected from it when possible, it is not the only radiation growers are being exposed too. In fact, UV is only a small percentage of the total radiation.
Both Visible and IR play large roles with regards to the total radiation produced by the sun, and by modern grow lights. Again, many growers are aware of the damage caused by UV, but what about the rest of the radiation? Infrared radiation is mostly experienced as heat. Your body’s natural defense system kicks in when you are being exposed to significant levels of IR. But what about the radiation that doesn’t trigger any self-defense responses? Visible light is just that type of radiation. Historically visible light was labeled as non-deleterious, or non-harmful. With the advances in technology and understanding how our bodies react with radiation, visible light is no longer an innocent bystander. Visible light, specifically the “High Energy Visible” spectrum between 400nm-500nm, has been linked to many health issues previously believed to only come from the UV spectrum.
These are just a few of the health risks attributed to Visible light exposure:
- Produces free radicals (free radicals are found in almost every known cancer)
- Affects melanogenesis
- Increase macular degeneration
- Induces indirect DNA damage through the generation of reactive oxygen species
skin disease, photoaging, erythema
We can no longer just keep our focus on one type of harmful radiation. We must begin to protect workers throughout the relative spectrum that is flooding their work environments.
Simply put, what you are wearing isn’t enough. Not only is what you are wearing not enough, but the policies and standard operating procedures meant to protect growers are grossly ineffective. Current regulations fall well short of the known science surrounding light radiation risks in modern cultivation. These relaxed standards are a result of an overall lack of understanding and miseducation stemming from one flawed assumption…believing that covering your skin is the same as protecting your skin. This tragic misconception has been proven false repeatedly, yet like an old wives’ tale, it is what growers and regulatory bodies seem to believe. This needs to change. We need to start making the health and safety of growers as important as the plants they are growing. The science and the solutions are there to keep the front lines of our industry healthy. It is up to us to make the future of our industry a safer one.