County warned over effects of balloons

DON'T let the balloon go up!That was the impassioned plea today from environmentalists as the season of fetes and outdoor events gets into full swing.

DON'T let the balloon go up!

That was the impassioned plea today from environmentalists as the season of fetes and outdoor events gets into full swing.

Helium balloons can rise high into the atmosphere and get carried miles - but eventually they will come back down to earth.

And when they do they can be devastating for wildlife, especially those balloons which land in the sea.

At the weekend the Suffolk Learning and Skills Council (LSC) launched 9,000 balloons to mark the number of people it had helped over the last few years.

But today a spokesman for the regional LSC apologised for the damage this could cause to the environment and said it would be advising county-based organisations not to use balloon launches to get publicity.

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She said: “I was not about when this was being planned, but if I had been consulted I would have advised against it because I know the damage that can be caused.

“We shall ensure all our staff know that balloons can be dangerous and advise against this kind of thing.”

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has run a campaign against balloon launches for some time, and spokeswoman Jill Bell said the damage that can be caused by discarded balloons could be devastating.

“We have found balloons in the stomachs of dead dolphins, porpoises and leatherback turtles. They have died after eating them and being unable to digest them.

“Balloons may look nice when they are launched, but they do come down and if they are picked up and eaten they can easily kill.”

Although the industry said balloons degrade within six months, there was evidence that the latex remained elastic in seawater for up to a year - and even if it did degrade after six months, that was long enough to kill an animal that swallowed it.

However the National Balloon Association has published guidelines about releasing balloons, and claims that if they are properly inflated with helium they will burst high in the atmosphere into miniscule pieces of latex that will cause no danger to wildlife.

A spokesman said: "Balloon releases carried out within the guidelines of the NABAS Code of Conduct should cause no threat to wildlife or the environment.

“There is no evidence to prove that a latex balloon has caused the death of any sea animal, in fact there have been tests to prove that a piece of a broken latex balloon ingested by a turtle will in fact pass through the animal in the normal manner causing no harm whatsoever."

Panel:

Ipswich council does not use balloon launches to get publicity, and leisure spokeswoman Judy Terry said she would ask borough officers to point out the dangers of the balloons to anyone using council land for special events.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said there was no firm policy, but the authority was aware of concerns and would be advising staff throughout the organisation - including schools - to consider the environmental issues surrounding balloons before using them.

Suffolk Coastal council has no policy on balloons, but a spokesman said they would review the situation if it was brought up as an issue.

MEP Richard Howitt was at the LSC event and was unrepentant about the balloon launch. He said: “Each balloon represented someone in Suffolk who has been helped by the LSC and it would be sad if that was ignored.

“Climate change is the big environmental issue, and worrying about balloons is getting the issue out of proportion.”

Ipswich MP Chris Mole felt telling the public about the danger would be more effective than passing legislation: “Once more people know about the dangers, then there are likely to be far fewer of these kind of events.”

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