I was in Time Square the other day and happened upon a balloon promotion for “Imagine, There’s No Hunger” an organization established by Yoko Ono aimed at fighting world hunger. It was one of those beautiful bright and brisk New York City autumn days. But for me a shadow was cast across those hundreds of milky white balloons just before they were released enabling them to float up into the sky.I’m not a naysayer nor do I like to rain on anyone’s parade, though since I learned that these latex bubbles frequently cause the death of whales and dolphins, I can no longer help but object to these kinds of balloon promotions.
It’s not just children’s party balloons that cause harm to sea life, weather balloons released into the atmosphere also are a part of the problem. The life of a helium balloon is predictable. As the balloon rises, the helium expands and the balloon eventually bursts into many small pieces or the balloon deflates as the helium escapes. Regardless of the demise of the balloon the particles always float back to Earth frequently falling into the oceans.
According to Save The Whales, “Balloons are ingested by whales, dolphins, turtles, seals, fish and water-fowl, which innocently believe they are food such as jellyfish or squid. Recently a young whale was stranded on a New Jersey beach. A balloon lodged in its stomach prevented the passage of food. Other examples are on record of sea life starving to death after swallowing balloons that was mistaken for food.Gerald Eddlemon, an ecologist who works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, suggests that the plastic used in the production of meteorological and astronomical observation balloons be replaced with materials that break down in salt water – or at least remove the chemicals that prevent the balloons from degrading.
There are alternatives to balloon promotions; plant flowers or trees, have children make kites and fly them, launch balloons indoors. Or if you must have a large demonstration using balloons, when handing out balloons also give everyone a sewing needle and break the balloons all at the same time, and then clean up the mess and dispose of the discarded latex in a proper manner. And for a business trying to get the attention of passersby, use colorful windsocks, they have great eye appeal and are reusable. It’s hard to ignore the problem once you realize the potential damage that a helium balloon can cause. Tell your friends to dispose of balloons properly and never let balloons loose into the atmosphere. Because balloons can travel quite long distances, even when a balloon is released miles from water it could quite likely end up in the ocean.