SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County are considering legislation banning the release of helium balloons.
Introduced by County Executive Bob Culver in September, the proposed legislation would prohibit the release of non-biodegradable or non-photodegradable balloons into the atmosphere.
The legislative bill, submitted to the Wicomico County Council last month, would amend the county code to prohibit the intentional release of balloons and make any intentional release subject to a civil infraction.
Culver’s announcement followed on the heels of a new law passed in Queen Anne’s County prohibiting the intentional release of Mylar and plastic balloons filled with helium. It has become the first county in Maryland and one of only a handful across the country to implement such a ban.
But in a work session with the county council last Tuesday, Kerrie Bunting – who is leading efforts to pass legislation on the Lower Shore – said she was eager to see Wicomico follow suit.
“There’s a lot of issues well beyond litter,” she said. “I hope the council can see it.”
Bunting said both Mylar and latex balloons – as well as the strings attached to them – pose significant risks to the environment, wildlife, health and safety.
“It’s not just the balloon,” she said. “It’s the string. That string is not nylon, is not biodegradable. The vast majority of animals that are killed are killed with that string.”
Falstad – whose organization pushed for legislation in Queen Anne’s County – said efforts to ban the release of balloons began a few years ago, when he found a cluster of balloons with a phone number attached.
“I called that number and it turned out that they were released from Dayton, Ohio, four days earlier and had traveled some 500 miles,” he said.
In speaking with community members, watermen, and offshore fishermen and sailors, Falstad said he learned just how severe the issue was. In one example, Falstad said his neighbor found balloons from the Indianapolis 500.
“If you can imagine balloons being launched from the Midwest landing here, the balloons that are being launched from the east coast are landing out at sea and causing a problem,” he said.
If Wicomico passes legislation banning the release of balloons, Falstad said the county would be the second in Maryland.
“We hope you all will consider doing the same thing,” he said. “I think between Wicomico County and Queen Anne’s County, we can lead the state in doing the right thing.”
Bunting said plans are already underway to introduce a similar legislative bill in the upcoming General Assembly session. She explained the county’s support was crucial to efforts taking shape in Annapolis.
“The more counties that prove this is an issue to the counties and municipalities and citizens, that would be more evidence for the state to want to pass it as well,” she said.
In Wicomico County, the proposed legislation would not apply to any balloons released by or on behalf of any state or federal agency for scientific or meteorological purposes, hot air balloons that are recovered after launch, or the negligent or unintentional release of any balloons. Those found guilty of violating the law could be fined no more than $250.
“This does not seek to prosecute the six-year-old kid who let’s go of a balloon at a birthday party,” Falstad said. “This is meant more for larger releases.”
While he agreed the law could be difficult to enforce, Falstad said the intent is to bring visibility to the issue of balloon releases.
“It’s a nationwide problem, but the only way to tackle it is to start locally.”
Bill Chambers, president and CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, also came before the Wicomico County Council on Tuesday to speak on behalf of the proposed legislation.
“We support it, our business members support it, it will not have an adverse effect on the business community,” he said. “I think our business members are environmentally sensitive and this is a long time coming.”