County lawmakers are considering a ban on balloon releases, citing discarded items littering beaches and posing a threat to wildlife.
The county legislature held a public hearing in Hauppauge Tuesday, drawing wide support from the public on the issue.
“I’ve been on the water here amongst marine mammals — our whales, dolphins, and others — for the past 33 years,” said Dr. Arthur Kopelman, president of the Coastal Research Education Society of Long Island. “And I will tell you, almost every time I have found balloons.”
He said marine mammals and seabirds can mistake balloons, especially those made out of mylar, for food and ingest them, or become entangled in their ribbons.
“Suffolk County did a great job when they banned the release of 25 or more, but I think it’s time to take the step,” Dr. Kopelman said.
The bill before the legislature would amend a current county law, which limits the release of helium filled balloons to 25 per event in a 24-hour period.
Under the amendment, any balloons filled with helium or any lighter-than-air gas would be banned from intentional release.
Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said in an interview Wednesday that balloons pose serious environmental problems and can drift for hundreds of miles.
While Mr. DeLuca said shiny mylar balloons are the worst culprits since they do not degrade, latex balloons can also be ingested before breaking down, which can take over a year.
“We fully understand that most people don’t think about the consequences of balloon releases and do not intend for their actions to harm the environment, but the consequences are real and our need to address this issue is readily apparent,” Mr. DeLuca said in offering support for the proposed county action.
Violators could face fines of $500 for a first violation, $750 for a second and $1,000 for future violations.
Officials said children who accidentally let go of a balloon, would be exempt from enforcement. Balloons released indoors, weather balloons, hot air balloons and others used for scientific experiments, would also be exempt.
Manorville resident Michael Doyle said continuing to allow balloon releases just encourages littering.
“I think we all learned in school that what goes up, must come down,” he said. “When balloons go up, they come down and have dangerous consequences.”
A proposal to ban the release of balloons in Southold Town was briefly discussed and supported among Southold Town Board members during a work session Tuesday, but tabled as they await the outcome of the county vote, which will likely take place this fall.
“Fishermen are going out and seeing the results and consequences,” Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. “It has to be addressed.”
East Hampton Trustee Susan McGraw Keber testified at the public hearing. She’d like to see the sale of balloons also restricted, citing that they are a single-use item and that helium is a finite resource.
Multiple speakers also raised concerns over paper sky lanterns that are released into the air. Though many are advertised as biodegradable, some contain metal wires that hold the structure together.
Several towns and villages have already passed laws prohibiting balloons from being released into the atmosphere.
In December, the East Hampton Trustees voted unanimously in support of a ban on intentional balloon releases. The East Hampton Town Board followed in February.
Following in their footsteps, Southampton Town has adopted similar legislation. Southampton Village approved a ban earlier this month.