Friday, August 17, 2007

Balloon Releases

After the Virginia Tech massacre I was torn between being touched when I heard about the 33 white and the 1,000 burgundy and orange balloons which were released at the memorial ceremony shortly after and being out raged that the organizers were so indifferent to the environment and the safety of others.

Back in the 70’s I remember hearing about balloons being removed from the blow holes, lungs, and stomachs of dead whales and other marine mammals. In the past decade there has been a campaign to raise awareness of the choking dangers of latex balloons are to young children. In the hands of a young child they can pop and if swallowed can suffocate the child. A piece lodges in the throat and is nearly impossible to remove weather it be a human child or a whale at sea. The fallen balloons litter our forest, towns, and waters. There are many groups organizing clean ups across the country and trying to put out the word not to litter. Yet the news carries stories of releasing hundreds of pieces of litter… a beautiful memorial but it is all litter once released.

Released balloons threaten air traffic. I’ve been told that the latex balloons and probably the Mylar ones too are a real problem for jet engines and have caused engine failure in mid flight. The good news is most jet planes have multiple jet engines and can usually land with one less. I’ve heard people tell me that balloons don’t go that far. Balloons can travel high and far. During WWII Japan released balloons hoping they would reach the shores of the United States. Several did with one killing a civilian with its cargo.

With all the damage released balloons can do, can we come up with a better substitution to remember our loved ones and be more environmentally and safety conscious?

And to be fair here is a supporter of balloon releases with a set of rules trying make them more environmentally friendly, Outdoor Balloon Releases. To be honest as soon as they mention sending pet ashes up in a balloon, I cringed. The idea of having ashes from a cremated pet falling on me is just totally gross. Then she goes on to recommend “telling” the local airport not asking them so you don’t get tangled up in the red tap. This acknowledges the problem but sort of makes it the ‘pilot’s problem’ not theirs has information about balloon releases and an alternative of butterflies as well as more scientific information about balloons themselves. The argument that most fully inflated balloons will reach an altitude where they will freeze and burst before falling back down as small ribbons of latex seems to forget that all of those pieces will land somewhere, usually within 5 miles of the release. Considering people don’t want landfills in their back yards, would you really want it to be raining balloon droppings in your yard? Yes, latex balloons are biodegradable. This is a great argument to compost your old balloons. I don’t see it as a reason to release them.

The Balloon Council seems to think that adding only a small percentage of the litter cleaned up off of the beaches isn’t enough to worry about. Hmm, if everyone didn’t contribute a small amount there would be so much less to clean up.

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