Up and away: Frederick Co. considers banning balloon releases

In an effort to fight pollution, a Frederick County councilman has introduced a bill that would ban the intentional release of balloons.

Councilman Kai Hagen’s bill is designed to reduce what he called “mass balloon releases,” which are sometimes cast into the air as part of a ceremony.

”It’s not just about whether a 12-year-old accidentally has one slip off their hand at the fair, or lets it go on purpose,” Hagen told council members. “Nobody’s going to care, nobody’s going to enforce that — hopefully their parents will say ‘next time, maybe we won’t get a helium balloon.'”

Under Hagen’s proposal, a $250 fine could be imposed on anyone who releases or organizes the release of balloons that aren’t biodegradable or photodegradable.

Several council members said the bill, although well-intentioned, would be difficult and unwieldy to enforce.

“I don’t like adding legislation that is so hard to enforce,” said council Vice President Michael Blue. “I would rather see you educate than legislate.”

Hagen said most people, once aware of the ban, will choose to follow the proposed law and avoid releasing balloons.

Councilman Steve McKay challenged the idea that a ban would encourage people to avoid releasing the balloons.

“I just fundamentally don’t agree with the approach that we put a law on the book that we know — coming into it — that we probably will not be able to enforce it,” said McKay.

In August, Queen Anne County became Maryland’s first county to ban the release of non-biodegradable balloons.

Hagen said his bill would be enforceable, since it doesn’t focus on isolated balloons flying away. “Large releases are concentrated, planned, visible, public events,” he said.

Asked who would enforce the ban, Hagen said it would likely be tasked to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. While some colleagues speculated the law enforcement agency would balk, Hagen said, “They’re not thrilled about noise ordinances, either, but it’s part of what they’re supposed to do.”


Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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