Gillen proposes ban on intentional release of balloons in Hempstead

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Town Supervisor Laura Gillen was joined by over a half-dozen environmental groups to unveil local legislation banning the intentional release of balloons in the Town of Hempstead. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen has proposed a ban on the intentional release of balloons in an effort to protect the environment and sea life.

The ban will be discussed and voted on at an Oct. 2 Town Board meeting, Gillen, a Democrat, said Monday.

The intentional release of the balloons could result in a $500 fine, Gillen’s office said.

Gillen’s office said that latex balloons, often marketed as “biodegradable” and “environmentally safe,” are one of the most common forms of floating garbage within 200 miles of shorelines, and are often mistaken by sea life as food, causing animals to choke.

“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. “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 recently announced that it would end the annual balloon release at the town summer program Camp ANCHOR’s annual graduation and substitute large colorful bubbles after camp officials realized that the biodegradable balloons that they were using could still be a hazard to local wildlife, Gillen said.

Gillen’s conference was attended by environmental officials, including Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“Balloons don’t go to heaven, but they send marine mammals there prematurely. The antiquated tradition of releasing balloons to heaven needs to be replaced with new traditions that don’t harm wildlife or pollute our oceans,” Esposito said. “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.”

There will be a public hearing, followed by a vote during a Town Board meeting Oct. 2, Gillen’s office said. The legislation would ban 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 released.

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