Newly-passed bills will make it illegal in Md. and Va. to intentionally release balloons outdoors. Photo: Jay Falstad, Queen Anne's Consevation Assoc./Facebook

Md., Va. Pass Statewide Balloon Release Bans

The Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic coast may see fewer wildlife-choking balloons, thanks to state legislation passed in both Maryland and Virginia this spring.

The Maryland legislature just passed SB716/HB391, which prohibits any person 13 or older or any group from intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere, and bans any mass balloon release of 10 or more balloons, and requires violations to be reported. The bill, introduced by Del. Wayne Hartman of Wicomico and Worcester counties, now awaits Governor Larry Hogan’s signature. Marine life advocates like the internation group Oceana applaud the move:

“This bill, which will ban intentional balloon releases, is good news for our marine life and the estimated 96,000 jobs in Maryland that depend on a clean coast. Now, state lawmakers should quickly pass additional policies to reduce single-use plastics and offer plastic-free choices,” says Oceana’s Mid-Atlantic field representative, Jacob Ross. “Maryland is right to ban intentional balloon releases.”

The balloon ban started as a local bill in Queen Anne’s County, championed by the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Chris Corchiarino, and former Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer. In 2019 it became the first ban in the state, as Bay Bulletin reported. Montgomery and Wicomico counties followed.

A wild pony known as Alexandria’s Angel with a balloon in her mouth on Assateague Island. Photo: Cat Volmer

Another local effort, Blume’s Balloon Roundup started in 2018 with two Ocean City, Md. siblings just 10 and 12 years old encouraging boaters to pull balloons from the water. As of this spring, they have tallied nearly 3,500 balloons cleaned up around waterfronts from New Jersey to Florida.

On Assateague Island, balloons pose a danger to wildlife, including the popular herd of wild ponies. Assateague Island Alliance Board President Nancy Gaither submitted written testimony in support of the bill, describing how horses and sea animals can ingest the balloons.

When the statewide ban passed both chambers, Queen Anne’s Conservation Association Executive Director Jay Falstad posted on Facebook, “This is a great day for wildlife, marine life, farm animals and the planet.”

It was a great day in Virginia, too, when their General Assembly passed similar legislation in late February. Introduced by Del. Nancy Guy of Virginia Beach, H.B. 2159 prohibits anyone 16 or older or any group from intentionally releasing or discarding a nonbiodegradable balloon outdoors, hitting violators with a civil penalty of $25 per balloon (with the money going towards the Game Protection Fund). If a person under the age of 16 releases a balloon at the instruction of an adult, the adult shall be liable for the civil penalty.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) said it’s an important move to help solve the Commonwealth’s litter problem. In a statement, CBF Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner says:

“Balloons are often released out of doors to mark celebrations, but too often, they end up clogging our waterways and choking dolphins, birds, turtles, and other wildlife. Confining balloons to indoor settings is a simple step that will protect wildlife beloved by our children and keep our waterways running clear and safe.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano