What do the finish line of a 5K, a graduation celebration and a gender-reveal party have in common? Balloons, and lots of them.
But balloons, specifically those filled with gases that are lighter than air like helium, can damage wildlife and power lines. Releasing a balloon is essentially littering, no different from throwing a plastic bottle onto a highway or spitting out gum out on a nature trail.
The balloons kill creatures on land and in the seas as they’re easily mistaken as prey. Balloons and their ribbons can get stuck around beaks, or in the digestive tracks of several animals. Mylar balloons, which can conduct electricity, can cause power outages if they get tangled in power lines.
Several states and cities have placed restrictions on balloons that can float away. In California, such balloons can’t be sold without a weight affixed to them. In Nantucket, Massachusetts, you cannot sell or use these balloons Despite many efforts, New York unfortunately still has no regulations.
In January, Assemb. Brian Kavanagh of New York City again introduced a bill that would prohibit an individual from relasing 25 or more gas-filled balloons outdoors within a 24-hour period. Earlier efforts were made to pass the bill in 2009 and in in 2011. These bills never came to vote in either chamber, but the reality is that such legislation would do little to combat the real balloon issue, anyway. If a person can release 24 balloons every day without penalty, that’s the potential for 24 power outages, 24 more pieces of litter and 24 more animal deaths. Rather than reintroducing a flawed bill, New York legislators should look to California’s 1990 law as a start.
California’s law doesn’t solve the problem of balloons sailing away. And in 2008, 2,000 California residents lost power because of a Mylar balloon. But the law at least puts some responsiblity on retailers to acknowledge the risk of gas-filled balloons and fines residents who intentionally release them.
Balloons are a fun, colorful way to add excitement to an event. Just don’t let them fly away. Try popping them instead.
Melissa Holzberg is an intern with Newsday Opinion.