Two years after East Hampton Town banned the intentional release of balloons, the town board will hold a public hearing on amending the town code to ban the sale or distribution of gas or helium-filled balloons as of Jan. 1. The hearing will happen during the board's meeting on Oct. 7.
Balloons may be a popular accessory at celebrations like birthdays, weddings, and graduations, but their effect on wildlife can be lethal. As they are often mistaken for squid, jellyfish, or other prey, their ingestion is a major threat to marine mammals, sea turtles, and birds. Animals can also become entangled in the ribbons commonly tied to balloons, which can cut deeply into their flesh or strangle them.
As she had in May, Susan McGraw Keber, a town trustee, told the town board at its Sept. 7 work session that more than 300 East Hampton High School students, as well as a class at the East Hampton Middle School and students at the Avenue School, had presented petitions supporting such a ban. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, and the trustees are also in favor of a ban, Ms. McGraw Keber said.
Groups including the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Peconic Baykeeper, Friends of Georgica Pond, the Surfrider Foundation's eastern Long Island chapter, Concerned Citizens of Montauk, the South Fork Natural History Museum, the Perfect Earth Project, and the town's Aquaculture Department are also in favor, she said.
A ban is "very important to our community" and the town's waterways, she said.
Courtney Garneau, chairwoman of Surfrider's chapter here, called in to the meeting to encourage the town to take the proposed action. Since 2017, she said, the chapter had pulled more than 11,000 pounds of debris from beaches between Montauk and Westhampton Beach, including almost 1,500 balloons. "That's just our beach cleanups," she said.
Although latex balloons are considered biodegradable, they take anywhere from six months to four years to decompose, "and they can wreak a lot of havoc before they do," according to the Environmental Nature Center, which cites an observation that balloons floating in seawater retained their elasticity for a year.
The proposed amendment adds Mylar, which never degrades, to the definition of balloon, and would include exceptions for balloons being used to carry scientific instruments, hot air balloons that are recovered after launching, and balloons released indoors that are properly disposed of.