East Hampton Town Will Propose Ban On Releasing Balloons

Robert DiGiovanni, chief scientist of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, fishes a balloon out of the water in the Shinnecock Inlet in July of 2017. AMCS courtesy photo

East Hampton Town officials will introduce a law Thursday, January 17, that would prohibit the intentional release of balloons in the town, although board members stressed during a work session on Tuesday that the law would not target unsuspecting children.

“Obviously, we are not penalizing people who lose their balloons,” said Assistant Town Attorney Nancy Lynn Thiele. “We are not going after three-year-olds that cannot hold onto their parade balloons — that is not what we are doing. I am not keeping kids from having balloons at their birthday parties.”

Under the town’s proposed law, it would be unlawful to intentionally release any number of balloons into the atmosphere. It also would require all balloons to be disposed of properly, including water balloons — an effort, said Ms. Thiele, to protect the environment after summer campers, for example, hold a water balloon fight on the beach.

There are exceptions in the draft law, noted Ms. Thiele, for weather balloons, hot air balloons and balloons released indoors.

In December, the East Hampton Town Trustees — led by Susan McGraw Keber — unanimously voted to support a ban on the intentional release of balloons as a part of a broader effort by the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to encourage municipalities across Suffolk County to adopt the restriction. In Suffolk County, it is currently legal to intentionally release as many as 25 balloons per person in a 24-hour period.

The movement, said Ms. McGraw Keber during Tuesday’s work session, has the support of a number of environmental groups including Group for the East End and the Nature Conservancy, and is supported by New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.

“The balloon industry will tell you that latex and Mylar are biodegradable,” said Ms. McGraw Keber. “They are not biodegradable. Balloons are a single-use plastic and this is why we feel so strongly about eliminating this in our community.”

“I support this resolution. My question is about enforcement,” said Town Board member David Lys.

“It is hard to collect evidence when it has floated away,” added Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc.

Ms. Thiele said the town could use pictures posted on social media, advertisements and witnesses in order to enforce the new law. “There are circumstantial ways of being able to prove the intent,” she said.

“We are getting the message out that balloons being released into the environment is harmful,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. He later added, “I think sending the message is really important and hopefully we don’t have to get to the point where this reverses the trend.”

“There are certainly a lot of balloons on the beach,” said Town Board member Sylvia Overby.

The board is expected to set a public hearing on the proposal for its meeting at 6:30 p.m. on February 7.

According to the Surfrider Foundation, a total of 774 balloons were found on beaches from Montauk to Westhampton Beach during three dozen beach cleanups between June of 2017 and December of 2018. Marine life frequently ingests plastic objects in the water, including balloons, often with fatal consequences.