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Letter to the Editor: Helium balloons have no place in Hopkinton

by | Jun 26, 2019 | News

To the Editor:

Here in Hopkinton, it is imperative that we ban helium balloons. Why? Although a helium balloon can rise to altitudes of 5 miles into Earth’s atmosphere, it’s got to come back down eventually. Whatever comes up must come down. Down on beaches, forests, oceans. The animals think it’s food, or arguably worse, get strangled in the long ribbons or strings. And balloons aren’t even biodegradable.

Helium is a rare natural resource, and is used in medical equipment and even helps launch rockets, which is much more important than birthdays — which are celebrated every single day, somewhere in the world. Imagine all of this helium (and plastic) building up over time, and reaching a tremendous sum. And the impact on the environment! Beaches trashed. The animals in the sea? Long gone. The sea itself? Too polluted to swim in. Could we rehabilitate on another planet? No, because launching rockets requires helium. Hospitals? Scrambling to find suitable equipment to revive patients.

Animals see their bright colors and shapes and mistake them for food. How easy is it for a deflated balloon to be mistaken for a jellyfish, then eaten by a sea turtle? Plastic can block up the digestive tract, causing that animal to die. Just last year, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization found balloons as one of the top three most harmful pollutants for marine wildlife. Earth is a precariously balanced ecosystem — each food web being supported by another. If one were to suddenly disappear, it could topple. A main course for, say, a fox is a turtle — it dies out. A cougar’s food is a fox — it dies out. It’s like Jenga. The whole tower topples over just because one block is gone. That could happen to us if we aren’t careful.

Balloons may degrade after several years, but they are certainly not “biodegradable.” Latex balloons take years to decompose, and they deteriorate in seawater slower than they do on land. Mylar balloons are made out of NASA-grade nylon and aren’t biodegradable. They can hang out in the environment indefinitely.

As the dominant species of this planet, surely we can do better. We could use paper balloons, and we can use other decorations such as streamers and banners. Experts suggest using bubbles. If those aren’t your thing, kites are great. The turtles and birds will have a reason to celebrate, too. Without balloons, of course!

— Marley Midkiff (Grade 5), Hopkinton

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