Monday, May 16, 2016

Balloon Warning Issued in Connecticut: Seriously, This is a...

Balloon Warning Issued in Connecticut: Seriously, This is a...

Balloon Warning Issued in Connecticut: Seriously, This is a Real Thing

So you're planning this graduation party over the next couple of weeks.

It's a milestone and you want to make a big splash, so there's going to be a picnic, some backyard games and food - lots of food.

Then, the lightbulb goes off about a grand entrance for the graduate - a red carpet and a balloon release, perhaps.

Yes, you decide that's it … 2,016 balloons, a symbolic number for the graduating class.

Wait … that is a little expensive. How about 16? That's a workable number.

Not so fast, state officials said. There is a law against that.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection this week sent out a reminder that a state law prohibits any person or any group to intentionally release 10 or more helium balloons per day. No fine is mentioned in the outline of the statute, but an infraction ticket can be issued.

"It's more of an educational thing than anything," said DEEP Wildlife biologist Kathy Herz.

But that is not to say violations have a minor effect.

"This law was passed to protect wildlife, particularly marine animals that live in Long Island Sound," the DEEP said in a statement.

Herz said a springtime breeze can carry balloons for miles, taking them from points inland right to Long Island Sound and the four species of sea turtles that inhabit Connecticut waters.

"Sea turtles love to eat jellyfish and a balloon, once it deflates and begins floating in Long Island Sound, looks like a jellyfish," Herz said. "We have found turtles washed up on the shore. I remember sending some to Mystic Aquarium for an autopsy and their intestines were clogged by balloons."

From how far away have balloons been traced?

"I remember finding one on the shore and tracing the serial number. I was from Pennsylvania," said Donna Rae Henault Capaorasa, a Stratford resident and member of a citizen group called, whose mission is to point out the dangers of balloon releases.

Caporasa said she frequently walks along the Sound and the trails along the Housatonic River and constantly retrieves deflated balloons that have landed.

How many?

"Gosh, it could be 20 to 30 in a day this time of year, which is the worst with graduations, Mother's Day and Father's Day," she said.

She said she could find about 1,000 balloons in a four-month period.

"They are essentially floating trash," Herz said. "I have found some that have been out there for years. The companies say they are biodegradable, but they really aren't. Latex balloons do not break down and the mylar ones are even worse."

Herz said sea birds will pick up the balloons and their ribbons and either choke on the balloons or get tangled in the ribbons.

Herz said a piece of driftwood with balloons attached to it sits at Hamonasset State Park in Madison as a reminder of just how many balloons can wash ashore.

"Ospreys love to decorate their nests with trash," Herz said. "They can grab balloons, their strings and even plastic bottles. I have this haunting image of one found hanging from its nest in Old Lyme after getting tangles on a balloon ribbon."

Gulls and other sea birds will grab the ribbons and get tangled too, she said.

And it is not just the shoreline.

"I will see balloons in trees every time I go hiking," Herz said.

And not just the trees.

"Don't let Mylar balloons become a party spoiler," Eversource Energy officials said in a statement this week. "Keep them tethered and attached to weights at all times. The metallic coating on these balloons can cause a power outage when they come into contact with overhead electrical equipment."

Herz said the the state law is designed to prevent or discourage the single balloon from being given to a child, but "the mass releases."

She added, though, that people need to be careful even with one.

"That is why balloon law passed - what goes up what come down," said said. "It is trash and a balloon must be treated that way. A better way to celebrate is to plant a tree or memorialize an event in a more environmentally friendly way."

Photo Credit: Balloons by Donna Rae Henault Capaorasa; marine bird by Paul J. Fusco/CT DEEP Wildlife Division.

~A den Tex

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