Gillen proposes ban on release of balloons

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Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen proposed a ban on the intentional release of balloons on Sept. 16. Latex balloons, often sold with biodegradable or environmentally safe labels, are one of the most common forms of floating garbage within 200 miles of shorelines, according to the town. They are often mistaken by sea life as food, causing animals to choke on the litter.

Local officials also noted that balloon debris has an economic impact on communities, as it contributes to dirty beaches and can cause power outages when entangled with power lines. Balloons can also get caught in boat motors, directly impacting Long Island’s $4 billion ocean-related tourism industry.

“The Town of Hempstead is a coastal community, and the majority of the balloons that are released end up in the water and on our beaches,” Gillen said at a news conference. “The purpose of this legislation is not to punish, but rather educate residents that there are plenty of environmentally friendlier traditions, other than releasing balloons, that can be used at events.”

The Town of Hempstead, for example, recently announced that they would substitute Camp ANCHOR’s annual end-of-summer balloon release with large colorful bubbles.

“Biodegradable and natural latex balloons, while somewhat better for the environment than regular old balloons, can still take several years to decompose while harming wildlife and polluting our beaches,” Gillen said. “While well intentioned, we need to deflate the growing myth that balloon releases are acceptable as long as certain types of balloons are used.”

“Balloons don’t go to heaven, but they send marine mammals there prematurely,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “As the largest town in America and a coastal community, Hempstead has an obligation to be a role model and a leader in environmental protection and caring for our marine environment.”

“We applaud Supervisor Gillen’s proposal that realizes that intentional balloon releases can easily harm or kill wildlife and should stop,” said All Our Energy Executive Director George Povall. “Now the board must show they care too, and protect Hempstead’s 180 miles of coastal waterways and 17,000 acres of wetlands from this unacceptable practice whose time has since passed.”

“The Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island fully supports the Town of Hempstead’s plan to ban the intentional release of helium-filled balloons,” said Arthur H. Kopelman, president of CRESLI. “Balloons at sea are deadly killers and every effort should be made to stop their intentional release.”

“In the summer of 2017 during a marine mammal survey, I scooped a Father’s Day balloon out of the water where I had also documented several dolphins nearby,” said Atlantic Marine Conservation Society founder and chief scientist Rob DiGiovani. “This was in August - nearly two months after Father’s Day. We recovered a total of eight pounds of floating debris that day. This is just one case in which balloons have had a negative impact on the environment. Fragments of latex balloons, the rims, and ribbons/twine are documented and archived routinely with the investigations of sea turtle mortalities. Ingestion, whether directly or indirectly through their food, is a major threat to New York’s marine mammals and sea turtles.”

“We ask you to think of balloons like birthday candles — make a wish and pop the balloon and your wish will come true, and ours will too,” said president of Operation SPLASH Rob Weltner.

“Banning the intentional release of balloons is a simple first step toward reducing trash in our coastal areas,” said Amanda Moore, co-chair of the Central Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

There will a public hearing, followed by a vote during the Town’s Oct. 2 board meeting. The legislation bans only the intentional release of balloons and is designed to curb the practice at celebrations, such as graduations and weddings, where hundreds of balloons are often intentionally released at once. Organizations that intentionally release balloons could face up to a $500 fine.

— Compiled by Andrew Garcia