The intentional release of helium balloons will be illegal under an amendment to the Suffolk County code adopted yesterday by the county legislature.

The legislation, sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), makes it illegal to intentionally release outdoors balloons filled with helium or lighter-than-air gas. The restriction applies to latex as well as mylar balloons.

Current county law, adopted in 2002, allows any person or entity to release of up to 25 helium or lighter-than-air balloons in any 24-hour period.

The current law also imposes a civil fine of $500 for each willful first violation of the statute, increasing to $750 for a second conviction within two years and $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation within five years. The new law passed yesterday does not change the fine amounts or structure.

Anker’s legislation cites the Ocean Conservancy’s findings that latex and Mylar balloons are the most common form of floating garbage within 200 miles of American shorelines. It also cites the dangers that balloons — and the strings attached to them — pose to wildlife. Birds and marine life become entangled in the ribbons usually attached to balloons and ingest the materials they are made from, often with fatal consequences.

“We have the ability to be better stewards of our environment,” Anker said yesterday.

“It’s really a no-brainer,” Legislator Al Krupski said today. “Once people let them go, they become garbage. It becomes somebody else’s problem.”

The new ban does not apply to balloons being used for carrying scientific instrumentation during the performance of an experiment or testing procedure, balloons released on behalf of a government agency or pursuant to a government contract for scientific or meteorological purposes, or to hot air balloons that are recovered after launching. It also does not apply to balloons released indoors.

Businesses that sell helium or lighter-than-air gas balloons in Suffolk will be required to post a notice at the point of sale informing customers that it is illegal to release the balloons outdoors.

The measure drew strong support at a July 16 public hearing and was passed unanimously yesterday in Hauppauge.

If signed by County Executive Steve Bellone, the law will take effect 90 days after filing with the New York secretary of state.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.