Connecticut bill would ban the release of even one helium balloon

2023-01-13 00:54:59 By : Mr. Samuel Wall

These balloons were collected at Long Beach in Stratford near an important nesting area for piping plovers and least terns.

A bill meant to protect Connecticut birds and other wild creatures from slow and painful deaths calls for banning the intentional release of even one lighter-than-air balloon. Pure Color

Connecticut bill would ban the release of even one helium balloon

The goal is to save wildlife from the often fatal consequences of ingesting balloons and getting tangled in attached ribbons, state Rep. Irene Haines said. The existing law limits balloon releases to fewer than 10 in one day. Violators may be fined $35 plus fees that bring the total cost per violation to $75.

Haines, a Republican whose district includes East Haddam, East Hampton and Salem, has introduced the bill every year since she was elected in 2018, but it has not made it past committee. In the new legislative session, the bill has been referred to the joint committee on the environment.

Wildlife conservationists told legislators last year that helium-filled latex balloons are a multifaceted and widespread menace. Often released during celebrations, balloons can travel hundreds and even thousands of miles, and the deflated plastic and fragments get stuck in animals' digestive systems, killing them.  Robert LaFrance, Audubon Connecticut policy director, cited a 2019 study that found birds that ingested balloons were 32 times more likely to die than ones that ate hard plastics. Also, dolphins, whales and sea turtles mistake balloons for jellyfish, blocking their intestines.

Ribbons attached to the balloons entangle young ospreys, Deanna Broderick, a volunteer who installs platforms along the coast for the fish-eating raptors, told legislators, according to comments to the Environment Committee.

"We always find balloons in the nesting material of the osprey nests," Broderick said. "The young osprey chicks can become entangled in the curling ribbon and end up tethered to the nest, unable to fly and die or fall over the side of the nest and die. 

The website of the nonprofit group Balloons Blow includes graphic photos of turtles, birds and other creatures killed by balloons, fragments and ribbons. The organization's Wall of Shame is a photo gallery of deflated balloons with corporate and organizational logos found on beaches and other areas. 

"It is irresponsible for organizations and companies to use helium-filled balloons as promotional products or fundraising," the site says, "as they have such a high probability of ending up as flyaway litter."

In addition to the effects on wildlife, mylar, or foil-covered, balloons also cause power failures each year as they drift into electrical lines and circuit breakers. Bill Lucey, soundkeeper for Save the Sound, told lawmakers that it is uncommon not to see at least a few balloons during a day's work traversing the waterway. Lucey said balloons also get sucked into boats' water intakes, which can cause engine overheating.

At least nine other states, including Maine and Rhode Island, have laws banning or limiting the outdoor release of lighter-than-air balloons, according to a report for the Office of Legislative Research by Ellen Roberts. Some states prohibit the release of any balloons, while Tennessee has a limit of 25. Violators are subject to fines ranging from $25 to $2,000.

In Rhode Island, a first offense carries a $100 fine, and subsequent violations can bring fines up to $250, according to the report. Hawaii's fine can reach $500, while Virginia charges violators $25 per balloon, which goes to the state's Game Protection Fund. Maryland requires six hours of community service, or violators may watch a video about environmental damage, Roberts reported.

Connecticut bill would ban the release of even one helium balloon

Letter Balloons Haines said a higher fine could be part of the discussion this session. The proposal has not made it past committee in the past, partly because some legislators believe it is not enforceable, she said. Businesses that sell balloons and promote balloon releases have stymied the proposal, but Haines said it's important for the sake of birds and other animals to boost the message that balloons not properly disposed of are a hazard.