Commentary

printed 05/31/2019

It’s been said here before, and we’ll say again that Mylar and latex balloons ought to be banned for outdoor use.

As was demonstrated this week on Assateague, where a horse inadvertantly picked up a deflated balloon and ribbon that apparently was entwined in the grass it was eating, these things are a danger to the environment.

The balloons themselves aren’t the problem — they’re harmless enough, one would suppose — it’s that they can’t be controlled once they have been released, either on purpose or through carelessness, and will go wherever the wind takes them.

Here on the coast, the wind almost inevitably takes them miles out into the ocean, where a latex balloon can last for a year and Mylar, a polyester film, can remain intact for much longer.

This assumes they aren’t consumed by sea turtles, large fish or marine mammals, or, after they break down into small pieces and highly toxic particles, aren’t eaten by seabirds or by smaller fish that might end up on our tables.

In the best of circumstances, these balloons will wash up on a beach such as Ocean City’s, where public works personnel will collect them and other debris during their daily beach-cleaning routine.

Not so good is when this plastic and latex comes ashore in Assateague, which has no daily cleanup crews, and can interfere with wildlife and the natural beauty of the place.

The worst case is when these balloons float out to sea and end up in the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, the lesser known cousin of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where tons of trash remains caught by currents in an area the size of Texas.

The marine trash pit in the Atlantic is smaller, or at least experts believe it is. Although it stretches for hundreds of miles — an equivalent distance would be from Virginia to the tip of Cuba — scientists aren’t sure how wide it is.

Regardess, it shouldn’t be there at all, and the least we can do is not add to it with balloons. The State of Maryland has banned polystyrene (Styrofoam) food containers, and local restaurants began abandoning plastic straws some years ago.

By comparison, the number of balloons in this area is much smaller, and that should mean banning them wouldn’t be that difficult.

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