Florida Rep. sponsors bill that would ban deliberate balloon deflation statewide

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Florida. – Ever since Local 10 News launched our Don’t Trash our Treasure campaign, we’ve kept you informed of all the damage being caused by balloons being released into our environment.

Now a state official is taking bold action and trying to ban all balloon launches in Florida, and the move has broad support.

“I’ve been following this issue about the impact of balloons on our wildlife, particularly endangered sea turtles,” said Linda Chaney, Representative for District 61 of Florida. “And when this bill was proposed to me, I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. We have to do that. It’s time.'”

Republican Rep. Linda Chaney of District 61, who owns the Tampa-St. Petersburg, sponsors the new legislation. HB-91 would change the current law, which currently allows the release of up to 10 balloons in a 24-hour period and exempt balloons marketed as biodegradable from the restriction.

Chaney’s new bill would now ban the deliberate release of all balloons in Florida, including those labeled as environmentally friendly.

“There’s really no such thing as a biodegradable balloon, especially because most of them have a string attached to them,” Chaney said. “And once you attach the cord, that’s really what causes the problem.”

Seabirds constantly become tangled in these threads and have been known to eat the balloons that get stuck in their digestive tract, killing them.

Balloons are equally lethal to marine mammals and sea turtles, which often mistake balloons for food.

“When these balloons land in the ocean, especially latex balloons, when they burst and explode, they look and smell very much like jellyfish, which our endangered sea turtles eat these balloons,” said Catherine Uden, Oceana’s South Florida sales representative. “There is so much public support. Every time a balloon is released, people are upset, they are angry and they want something done about it. And finally we have the opportunity.”

Oceana is just one of several conservation groups that have long campaigned for tougher laws to ban deliberate balloon deflation in Florida.

And by backing this bill, Chaney has found an extremely unlikely ally in the form of ranchers in Florida, who say the balloon pollution problem has become so pervasive it’s killing their cows.

“A lot of balloons fall on their property and get eaten by their cows,” Chaney said. “I was told by a housemate of mine who owns property that he had a pregnant cow that ate a balloon and killed her and her calf.”

And it happens more often than you think. Local 10 News even reached out to an expert at the University of Florida, who confirmed that cows that accidentally eat balloons are unlikely to survive.

“They can’t digest the balloon, so the cows lose weight, they stop eating, and if left unchecked, the animals can end up dying,” said Dr. Joao Bittar, University of Florida Asst. Professor of veterinary medicine for cattle.

It’s a basic law of physics that what goes up must come down, even as far west as the Everglades, and so many of these floating time bombs end up in our waterways.

South Florida boaters are constantly sharing pictures of any balloons they find in the ocean with Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre.

Careless boaters decorate their ships with balloons, which can easily detach in the wind and prove deadly to marine life.

Conservationists hope this new law, if passed, will make it clear to everyone that balloons are simply bad for the environment.

“I really have a feeling that once we have the reconnaissance out there, we’re going to move away from these deliberate balloon releases and look at them more like junk events,” Uden said.

Chaney added, “Your life will still be happy. If you can’t release balloons, which are actually garbage and harm our wildlife, you are harming our environment, and really think about it, do you really need to release a balloon?”

Chaney is currently seeking a co-sponsor for the bill in the Florida Senate. If HB-91 passes, it could come into effect as early as July.

Here at Local 10 News, news management recently made the decision to no longer air balloon releases on our newscasts.

There are so many eco-friendly ways to honor or commemorate a loved one: you can plant a tree, plant a flower garden, or organize a beach clean-up. Click here for a full list of eco-friendly alternatives to balloons.

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