County bans release of balloons, sky lanterns


St. Johns County Commissioners voted unanimously at its Jan. 18 meeting to prohibit the outdoor release of balloons and sky lanterns within the county.

In doing so, the board amended an ordinance that had been drawn up in 1988 to prohibit littering and the abandonment of cars on public rights of way within unincorporated areas of the county.

The ban applies to all balloons, regardless of whether they are made from rubber, latex, polychloroprene, nylon fabric or mylar.

Any release, even if unintentional, could mean a fine of up to $500.

The county’s ordinance is stricter that Florida statute, which only bans the release of 10 or more balloons.

Wildlife advocates have long opposed the release of balloons because they inevitably come down and are mistaken by animals for food. When an animal ingests a balloon, it can damage the digestive system, leading to starvation and death.

In addition, animals sometimes become entangled in the strings tied to the balloons.

According to the county’s amendment, experts rate balloons as the single most deadly marine debris to sea birds and the third most deadly to sea turtles and marine mammals.

In addition to posing a risk to wildlife, mylar balloons have been known to cause power outages when caught on power lines, and balloons of any type may endanger aircraft.

Sky lanterns are similar to small hot-air balloons, typically a bag with a flame that heats the air inside it, allowing it to float into the air. One danger associated with sky lanterns is that, if they land on combustible materials, they can start a fire.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals has advocated for a nationwide ban on their release. In fact, Florida is one of 30 states to ban sky lanterns.

In addition, balloons and sky lanterns return to earth as litter.

The ordinance spells out two exceptions to its ban: balloons released on behalf of a government agency for scientific or meteorological purposes and balloons released indoors.