Balloon releases can be harmful to wildlife, environmental advocates say

Balloon releases are often a common sight at vigils and memorials as families say goodbye to loved ones who have passed. However, some experts say the balloons are causing harm miles away once they reach the ground.

In fact, 10 states currently have laws that prohibit balloon releases, including Tennessee and Virginia, but the Carolinas are not among those.

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Morgan Rafael is the executive director of the Carolina Wildlife Conservation Center in Lincoln County. She says balloons with messages written on them have landed on their property.

“I think that our more ground-dwelling animals will be at risk,” Rafael said. “Just because it’s gone and out of the air and you can’t see it anymore doesn’t mean it’s not causing harm miles away,” she added.

According to Rafael, animals can eat the balloons or get trapped by the material. In the four years the nonprofit center has been open, Rafael says calls related to the issue have increased 30% each year.

“We’ll get in there and be picking out fibers of plastic whether it’s from a balloon or not; a lot of times it’s the shiny string you see on the balloon,” she said.

Earlier this month, Rural Hill, a working farm and event site in Huntersville, posted about the dangers of balloons and balloon releases on its Facebook page after balloons were discovered on its grounds.

“This is being posted as a reminder that with good intentions, bad things can happen in other places by accident. Balloons can travel to farms, to nature preserves, the woods, to lakes, rivers, or streams, to places they are not safe for other beings. Thank goodness, fate had one of us on site to prevent a tragedy from occurring with our beloved cows …” part of the post read.

Will Adams of Team TruBlue says he held a balloon release after his son was gunned down in 2008. That’s when he started the Charlotte-based organization that works to prevent violence and help grieving families.

“It’s up to the family, and be mindful of what they’re going through and what their needs are,” he said.

Rafael suggests alternatives to balloon releases such as planting flowers or painting rocks, something that can still bring the community together, without negatively impacting the environment.

“So it’s not just up in the air and gone,” she said.

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