A first-of-its-kind environmental bill has passed in Queen Anne’s County, just over the Bay Bridge on Maryland’s Eastern shore.
Queen Anne’s is now the state’s first county to ban the intentional release of helium balloons into the air. Non-biodegradable balloons are sometimes released to celebrate an occasion or to memorialize a person, but they frequently end up in waterways and in the path of wildlife.
County commissioners unanimously passed the ordinance, which carries fines of up to $250 for deliberate violations.
“Intentionally releasing balloons into the atmosphere is nothing short of littering”, said the bill’s author, Commissioner Christopher M. Corchiarino.
Queen Anne’s Conservation Association (QACA), the oldest environmental group on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, praised the commissioners’ move. Jay Falstad, QACA’s Executive Director, says:
“Deflated mylar and latex balloons, and the ribbons attached to them, harm the environment by maiming and killing wildlife, sea creatures, and farm animals. The balloons are often mistaken for food, and marine animals especially, such as turtles and birds, become tangled in the ribbons and are killed. This ordinance is a major accomplishment, and I couldn’t be more proud that Queen Anne’s County is taking the lead on this important environmental issue.”
At a hearing earlier this summer, witnesses testified that helium balloons all the way from the Midwest have reached the farm fields of Queen Anne’s County and that balloons released along the Atlantic Coast have ended up in the ocean in huge off-shore clusters.
Advocates for the bill hope it will set a precedent for other Chesapeake Bay communities:
Bente Cooney of PlasticFree QAC, a local awareness group, says, “Hopefully other jurisdictions in Maryland and elsewhere will see what we’re doing and model similar legislation to tackle this problem.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano