by Priscilla Feral
Originally published in Nancy on Norwalk
Although helium-filled balloon launches have long been used for celebrations, they lose their innocence when their hazardous remnants litter Long Island Sound, or kill sea turtles, whales and other animals who mistake them as food. Young sea birds suffer, too, when entangled in the curling ribbon attached to balloons, so much so they end up tied to their nests.
State Rep. Irene Haines (whose district includes East Haddam, East Hampton and Salem) aims to protect birds and other wildlife by tightening Connecticut’s state law to prohibit the release of any helium balloons into the air. As the new legislative session unfolds, Rep. Haines has introduced a bill that’s been referred to the Environment Committee to ban the release outdoors of any helium balloons, which Friends of Animals supports. Current law allows the release of up to 10 helium-filled balloons per person within a 24-hour period.
Disneyland, which held the record for the most balloons ever launched – 1,121,448 during a 1985 salute to Walt Disney – eventually saw the damage done and banned balloon releases in 1989. Almost a dozen other states have either banned balloon releases or imposed limits.
Helium balloons can travel thousands of miles and expand as they rise and eventually explode. That’s when latex balloons – filled with chemicals, artificial dyes and plasticizers – become plastic pollution, which takes many years to biodegrade as balloon pieces get smaller and turn into microplastics. Mylar balloons are even less biodegradable than latex balloons.
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 on shore were sent to a Connecticut aquarium for autopsies, their intestines were clogged by balloons. When balloons fall into the sea, they also harm other marine animals such as whales whose intestines become blocked by mylar balloons, along with other marine life who ingest balloon remnants for food.
Besides antagonizing boat owners in Long Island Sound who find balloons get caught in their engines’ water intakes, all released balloons, including mylar and those erroneously marketed as “biodegradable latex,” return to Earth. They’re found stuck in trees, polluting waterways or on the ground as litter. Latex balloons may represent a fraction of the plastic debris floating in our waterways, but they’re an easily controlled pollution. We know that removing them from the skies and resulting waterways will go a long way toward protecting sea turtles, seals, whales, birds and other marine animals. So ask your State Representatives and State Senators to support legislation to prohibit the release of helium balloons.