Advocates say discarded balloons are a hazard to wildlife.

Advocates say discarded balloons are a hazard to wildlife. Credit: Newsday/Vera Chinese

East Hampton Town has passed a law banning the intentional release of balloons, a move intended to cut down on litter and protect the wildlife that often ingests them.

The town board voted 5-0 in favor of the new legislation, which was sponsored by Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, during its Feb. 7 meeting.

“Balloons waste natural resources, litter our communities, pollute our waterways and kill wildlife,” the new law states.

Those who commented during a public hearing before the vote all spoke in favor of the bill.

“I have observed the horrific consequences of discarded balloons on marine wildlife,” said Kimberly Durham, necropsy program coordinator of the Hampton Bays-based Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. “Ingestion, whether directly or indirectly, through their food is a major threat to New York’s marine mammals and sea turtles.”

Suffolk County law currently allows for the intentional release of up to 25 balloons, and East Hampton is the first municipality in the county to adopt stricter regulations. Those caught violating the law could face a fine of $1,000, up to 15 days in jail or both.

The law defines balloons as a flexible, nonporous bag made of materials such as rubber, latex, polychloroprene or nylon fabric. The ban would apply to balloons filled with helium, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen, air or water.

Weather balloons, hot air balloons and balloons released indoors are exempt from the law.

Town officials could use circumstantial evidence, such as a note tied to a discarded balloon, to enforce the law, but the primary purpose of the legislation is education, not prosecution, Assistant Town Attorney NancyLynn Thiele said during a presentation before the board earlier this year. The town would not enforce the law against anyone who accidentally lets go of a balloon, Thiele said.

The balloon bill is the second law adopted in East Hampton Town this year that relates to single-use, disposable items and the environment. The town board voted last month to ban local food establishments from selling or offering single-use polystyrene containers, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.

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