Montgomery County Council to consider banning balloon releases

Intentional balloon releases would be banned in Montgomery County, Maryland, if a new bill passes.

Bill 6-20, introduced by Council Vice President Tom Hucker, would make the intentional release of  balloons a Class A civil violation, which could have penalties of $500 for first offenses and $750 for subsequent offenses.

Balloon releases are currently quite common at numerous events in Montgomery County, including during funerals, memorial services, weddings and even corporate office openings, Hucker said.

“Set aside the fact that it’s sort of advertised, organized littering, since these all come down,” Hucker said.

Moreover, balloons pose a danger to wildlife.

“The hazards balloons, ribbons and the other things attached to them pose to wildlife, particularly sea birds, turtles and fish. Many, many marine birds and turtles end up starving after they ingest balloons that come down,” Hucker said.

The balloon pieces can block intestinal tracts when eaten by wildlife, resulting in starvation and death.

Sometimes, animals become entangled in the ribbons attached to the balloons, incapacitating them and eventually leading to their death.

In a news conference Tuesday to discuss the bill, representatives from Sierra Club, the Rock Creek Conservancy, the Humane Society of the United States, the Audubon Naturalist Society, Neighbors of Northwest Branch and Oceana voiced their support of the bill.

It’s not just Montgomery County’s wildlife that Hucker is worried about. He is also worried about wildlife far to the west of the area.

With weather patterns that generally move things west to east, balloons released from the Indianapolis 500 could have made it all the way to Maryland.

“All the ones released in this area tend to end up in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and eventually the Atlantic, where they’re ingested by sea birds and turtles as they wash ashore,” Hucker said.

Other Maryland jurisdictions have banned balloon releases, including Baltimore, Ocean City, Queen Anne’s County and the City of Frederick.

Bill 6-20 came in front of the Montgomery County Council on the heels of similar bills passed in the state House and Senate earlier this month.

Because enforcement will be done on the county level, Hucker said that it is necessary to have a county law banning the intentional release of balloons.

“Anybody who sees these (balloon releases) advertised is going to call 311 or call the police nonemergency line. They’re not going to call the Maryland State Police or the Maryland Department of the Environment,” Hucker said.

Under both Senate and House bills, ‌the‌ ‌Maryland‌ ‌Department‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Environment‌, ‌as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌local‌ ‌law‌ ‌enforcement agencies, would be responsible for enforcement.

If Bill 6-20 passes, enforcement of the law will be complaint-based, meaning when someone sees advertising for a balloon release or witnesses one, they can report it and law enforcement will respond to that tip.

The bill would not apply to balloons that are unintentionally released, released by a minor child without the permission of a parent, used for scientific of meteorological purposes, or are released indoors.

There will be a public hearing scheduled to discuss the bill.

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