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Here's why local environmental and energy leaders urge against balloon releases

Cleveland enacted balloon release ban this year
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Posted at 10:00 PM, May 08, 2022

CLEVELAND — It can be for a graduation celebration, a way to honor a loved one, or just a way to make a birthday wish; however some are urging people to think twice about organizing balloon releases.

Over the course of roughly the past week, News 5 has covered at least three events that involved balloon releases. And as the weather gets warmer, those with FirstEnergy told News 5 they’ll see more events like these popping up and that can mean more power outages.

According to FirstEnergy, last year foil balloons caused more than 150 power outages across their service area, including two dozen in Northeast Ohio.

“Many people just don’t realize that releasing them outdoors can cause significant damage to our power infrastructure,” Lauren Siburkis with FirstEnergy said.

Earlier this year, Cleveland City Council passed an ordinance banning the release of ten or more balloons at a time, following in the steps of other cities such as Toledo.

Cleveland holds a special place in history when it comes to balloon releases.

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Balloonfest '86

In 1986, a world-record-setting attempt of 1.5 million balloons released lives on in infamy as an event meant to raise awareness, that instead caused all sorts of problems including littering the lake, temporarily shutting down Burke Airport and making it harder for the Coast Guard in a search for two missing boaters.

And from an environmental standpoint, those at local animal rehab facilities told News 5 it can be very difficult, if not impossible to save an animal such as a bird when it eats a balloon or gets tied up in it.

“Usually, if there has been a very large balloon release, it is after that we will see animals having difficulty with balloons,” Heather Merritt with Birds in Flight Sanctuary in Trumbull County said. “You would have to do surgery to try to take it out or go in orally to get it out. Usually if you have to do surgery to get them out, it usually is not successful.”

Between 2016 and 2018, more than 18,000 balloons or balloon pieces were collected during alliance of the Great Lakes beach clean-up events.

Balloon releases have impact on Lake Erie, expert says

Instead, those looking to do a balloon release are asked to look at alternative ways to celebrate, such as planting a tree, lighting candles safely or releasing butterflies.

“Do you really want to memorialize someone by taking a life?” said Annette Piechowski with Medina Raptor Center. “There’s so many more viable things you can do that won’t affect the environment. Please don’t release balloons at any cost.”

RELATED: Cleveland City Council introduces legislation to ban balloon releases