By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.
Citing the need to “raise public awareness” Monday night, the Everett City Council voted unanimously to adopt a new ordinance that makes it illegal to release balloons into the skies above Everett because of the harmful and negative impacts that balloon releases can have on the environment in general, and wildlife in particular.
The new by-law was introduced by Councilors Michael McLaughlin and Fred Capone, both of who voted to support the ordinance and who jointly modeled the language of the ordinance on similar bans in other Massachusetts communities.
The issue was first brought the attention of the Council several months ago by local resident, animal activist and Independent contributing photojournalist Katy Rogers, who raised the issue with councilors last year.
She was back before the Council on Monday night, addressing the full body during the Public Participation portion of the meeting, during which she noted that despite their beauty, balloon releases can have a lasting negative impact on the environment, particularly on the animals and marine life that mistakes pieces of balloons for food.
Since balloons are made from materials that cannot be digested by animals, the balloon remnants ultimately form blockages in animal digestive tracts, causing the animals to die slowly from starvation.
“My intent is not to disrespect the many worthwhile organizations and causes that use balloon releases, to celebrate” or memorialize an event or loved one, but “in my experience people who release balloons do not intend to harm the environment, they simply aren’t aware of the impacts,” said Rogers.
Councilor Capone, speaking in favor of the ban, noted that it is easy to dismiss the idea of the ban as “a puff piece” or something less serious than “gang violence or public safety” and also acknowledged that it is unlikely the city actually has the manpower to fully enforce the new by-law.
However, he also noted that the importance of the by-law is not in its enforcement, but in the opportunity to educate individuals and organizations that may be thinking about a balloon release, that the celebratory gesture can cause harm to the environment and animal life.