OCEAN CITY — A new state law with its roots in Ocean City prohibiting the celebratory release of plastic and mylar balloons that often end up in the ocean or other waterways went into effect this month.
Introduced in the House last session by Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C), who represents Worcester County and Ocean City, House Bill 391 breezed through both chambers and was signed into law by the governor with an Oct. 1 effective date. The new law prohibits an individual, association, partnership, non-profit organization or any other group from knowingly and intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. The intent of the bill is to prohibit the intentional release of balloons at weddings, graduations and other ceremonies, which often end up in the ocean or other waterways and cause damage or even death to marine life.
Hartman, an avid fisherman who has seen first-hand the damage plastic any mylar balloons purposely released in the atmosphere can have on marine life, introduced the same legislation in 2020 and it was close to passing before the General Assembly session closed abruptly because of the pandemic. The balloon bill soared through the House and Senate this year on its way to passage.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is handling the enforcement side, although the agency could pass enforcement off to local jurisdictions. A violation of the law could result in a $100 fine, community service, or the watching a video about environmental pollution.
MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles said this week the balloon ban will help make strides in eliminating pollution.
“In Maryland, it’s now illegal to be a plastic balloon litterbug, and that’s good news for our land, water and wildlife,” he said. “With the rising tide of plastic pollution, this new law is an important and timely step for the health of our Chesapeake Bay, coast and ocean.”
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is also involved in enforcement, but is handling the public outreach side in terms of getting the word out about the law change. DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio explained the dangers of plastic balloons released intentionally.
“Balloons can be a great way to commemorate a special occasion, but when they are intentionally released into the air, they can harm and kill livestock and wildlife,” she said. “They can also cause electric outages when caught in power lines. The key is to find other ways to celebrate or honor a loved one, of if you have balloons, be sure to pop them and drop them in the trash rather than releasing them into the air on purpose.”