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Balloon Crusade Taken to County

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 13:11

Susan McGraw Keber, an East Hampton Town Trustee, urged the Suffolk County Legislature at its July 16 general meeting to pass legislation that would prohibit the intentional release of balloons, a move intended to protect wildlife and the environment.

“It was a packed house,” Ms. McGraw Keber said last week of the Legislature’s meeting. “I spoke, a whole host of people spoke, all in favor” of a ban on the intentional release of balloons. “I’m 99 percent sure they will pass this,” she said. A vote, scheduled for Sept. 4, will follow a 30-day public comment period.

The county at present allows an individual to release up to 25 balloons per day, a fact that activists advocating a ban have incredulously recounted for months. Balloons are a popular accessory at celebrations like birthdays, weddings, and graduations, but their effect on wildlife can be lethal. Often mistaken for food, ingestion is a major threat to marine mammals and sea turtles. Animals can also become entangled in the ribbons commonly affixed to balloons, which can cut deeply into their flesh or strangle them. Balloons frequently end up as litter and are commonly found among the debris that washes up on beaches.

The East Hampton Town Board voted to ban the intentional release of balloons in February. The Town of Southampton and the City of Long Beach have taken similar action.

If passed at the Legislature’s next general meeting, the law will provide that no person, nonprofit organization, firm, corporation, or municipality shall knowingly release, organize the release of, condone the release of, or intentionally cause to be released into the atmosphere helium or lighter-than-air gas balloons within the county.

Ms. McGraw Keber said last week that she had spoken with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. about taking a ban on the intentional release of balloons to the state level, and hoped that it would be addressed next year.

Last year, Ms. McGraw Keber, who is also an illustrator and cartoonist, designed a “balloon fish” crafted from found balloons, which she said was an effort to convey the message to children that balloons are hazardous to marine life. The design now adorns T-shirts that the trustees sell, with proceeds going to the Rysam Fund, a scholarship they award annually to a graduating high school student.

Following the town board’s February vote to ban the intentional release of balloons, Ms. McGraw Keber began advocating an outright ban on the sale or distribution of Mylar balloons, legislation that is in place on Block Island. At the Legislature’s meeting last week, “I ended by saying, ‘This is the beginning,’ ” she said. “ ‘I will be coming back to ask for a ban of balloons.’ ”

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