CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County residents provided a strong support for Ordinance 19-13 during the commissioners meeting Tuesday, Aug. 13, prohibiting the release of non-biodegradable balloons within the county.
During the public hearing, comments on the legislation introduced by County Commissioner Chris Corchiarino focused on the damage that both latex and especially mylar balloons cause to local wildlife and waterways when they are released en masse.
“This is mainly geared to when people release a massive amount of balloons like at a graduation,” said Jay Falstad, executive director of Queen Anne’s Conservation Association. “The county doesn’t need to be afraid if a child accidentally releases a balloon or a trial ballon needs to released to monitor wind speeds. Right now, it’s simply pollution, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Other county organizations echoed those sentiments, stating that during cleanup efforts, a large number of balloons must be removed along shores and from bird nests. Balloons even pose a risk to animal populations that may become entangled in any ribbons attached or who may confuse the plastic with food, they said.
“We pick up so much garbage at our cleanups and much of it is plastic,” said Kristin Weed, president of the Kent Island Beach Cleanups. “These mass releases aren’t the only way people can celebrate their loved ones. When you really think about it, it’s deliberate pollution. Many of these products claim to be biodegradable, but they’re not, even though they are natural latex and rubber.”
While none of the speakers spoke in opposition of the ordinance, they did offer language for an amendment concerning trial balloons. The proposed legislation does provide exemptions for balloons specifically in compliance with state and federal law such as data collection for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Corchiarino said he would offer a written amendment to better delineate that point.
Bente Cooney, founder of Plastic Free QAC, provided another perspective as an avid flier with her husband in a small aircraft. She testified that balloon pose a risk to pilots by who see them while trying maneuver.
“There’s no question that so-called biodegradable and mylar plastic, while it goes up in a festive way, comes down as litter. It hurts countless animals, travels thousands of miles and pollutes the most remote and pristine places. It could even cause power outages in some areas,” Cooney said.
Cooney went on to say that despite be labeled “biodegradable” on packaging, the process may take months and even years.
Additional testimony offered included area farmers speaking about balloons landing in their fields and on their crops.
Following the conclusion of the hearing, county commissioners moved the vote on the ordinance to the Tuesday, Aug. 27, meeting to allow time to draft an amendment and have it reviewed by the county attorney.