Legislation that would prohibit the intentional release of any helium-filled balloons in the state of Connecticut—HB 6481—passed the House 137-5 on May 3 after lawmakers agreed to remove infraction fines of up to $90 and turn the penalty into a warning from law enforcement. The bill is headed to the state Senate.

“Friends of Animals applauds state Rep. Irene Haines and members of the Environment Committee for their persistence to get this bill across the finish line because wildlife who eat balloons, such as sea turtles, seals, whales, birds and other marine animals, die as a result,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Darien-based Friends of Animals. “Rep. Haines has pointed out that releasing balloons is really throwing garbage into the air, and littering is illegal in CT. Even without a fine, FoA believes this legislation is a powerful, necessary tool to help educate communities to prevent intentional releases of balloons to commemorate a celebration or other life event. In the months ahead, we are committed to educating people that they can still celebrate but without harming animals who live in or visit Connecticut.”

Connecticut’s waters are home to four species of sea turtles, who often mistake latex balloons for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. When sea turtles washed up dead on shore were sent to a Connecticut aquarium for autopsies, their intestines were found to be clogged with latex balloons. Helium balloons also harm other marine life, such as whales whose intestines have been found fatally blocked by Mylar.

Helium balloons can travel thousands of miles and expand as they rise and eventually explode. Or they may simply deflate and fall to the ground or water whole. That’s when latex balloons – filled with chemicals, artificial dyes and plasticizers – become plastic pollution. Besides antagonizing boat owners on Long Island Sound when deflated balloons get caught in their engine intakes, the balloons take many years to biodegrade as balloon pieces get smaller and turn into microplastics. Balloons made of Mylar are even less biodegradable.

Ten states, as well as several municipalities throughout the U.S., have either banned balloon releases or imposed limits.

HB 6481 would not stop any Connecticut resident or visitor from celebrating important occasions with lighter-than-air balloons. It would just require them to do so indoors or to take steps to prevent their release out of doors.

Currently, CT law allows for the release of 10 balloons.

“When I first wrote the current law , I worked with students around the state who are now old enough to have kids of their own,” said state Rep. Mary Mushinsky on the House Floor Wednesday. “They wanted zero balloon releases as this bill would have us do today because they studied about the ocean and ocean wildlife, and they knew some animals eat the balloons and it causes a very slow death by starvation. The kids were bothered by that, and they asked the legislature to help fix it.”