Berkeley considers balloon ban

November 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The Berkeley City Council is considering a ban on the release of helium-filled balloons. City staffers say they pose a threat to the environment, but those in the balloon business say any risk is being blown way out of proportion.

Workers at Paper Plus Incredible Balloons have been doing business in Berkeley for 25 years.

"This is a latex balloon. It is totally biodegradable," says Michele Schurman, owner of Paper Plus Incredible Balloons.

However, Schurman has been put on the defensive. She says the proposed ordinance could hurt her business.

"I think it's a feel good measure. I think they think 'Well, we're doing something great for the environment,'" says Schurman.

On Tuesday night, city staffers recommended that council members ban the release of all types of balloons at city-permitted events. They say balloons take six months to biodegrade and during that time, they and the chord that's typically attached to them, pose a hazard to wildlife.

"There are documented cases of it, the chords strangling birds and also balloons and the latex getting into digestive tracks," says Greg Leventis, with the Environmental Advisory Commission.

PG&E isn't weighing in on this particular issue, but they stand by their claim that Mylar balloons cause a short when they come into contact with power lines.

"It often times results in an outage to an entire neighborhood, disrupting traffic lights and potentially creating a fire hazard as well," says PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica.

Still, people in the balloon business say all of those cases are rare. It is hardly a convincing argument for a ban they say could hurt the industry's image.

"'What's wrong with this measure? It's just about balloon releases.' No it's not. It's about perception," says Don Daniels, a balloon artist.

City Council members say with the economy the way it is, the last thing they want to do is hurt anyone's business. They told city staffers to come back with more documentation so they can make a more informed decision about possibly banning the release of balloons.


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