What goes up can kill wildlife: Reminders about the dangers of balloon releases

Ahead of a big festival this weekend at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia authorities are reminding people that releasing balloons into the air as part of a celebration is prohibited unless all the material is biodegradable.

The Department of Wildlife Resources said it’s ready to enforce the law, which applies to people 16 and up, or adults orchestrating balloon releases by youngsters. The fine is $25 per balloon.

Virginia’s not alone: Maryland also bans balloon releases, suggesting alternatives such as bubbles, kites or eco-friendly “confetti” such as bird seed, flower petals or dried leaves. Anyone 13 or older is subject to a fine of up to $100 per violation when they release 10 or more balloons.

D.C. sometimes prohibits balloons from outdoor events, but there’s no law prohibiting their release into the air.

In Delaware, releasing four or fewer balloons is considered littering, with a fine of at least $25. Five or more balloons can cost $250 in fines and up to eight hours of community service for a first offense.

What goes up must come down, and plastic pollution from balloons has had an impact on everything from beach crabs to Assateague Island horses and sea turtles, which helps explain why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has orchestrated campaigns to prevent the practice.

An online search for “biodegradable balloons” on Amazon garners more than 1,000 results.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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