Festivities ranging from birthdays to weddings to graduations continue throughout the year. Many people release balloons in celebration or in memorial, but may not understand the impact that balloons can have on power lines. Today, we’ll look at what happens when balloons go bad.
Starting in February and peaking in June, many power companies across the nation see an influx of power outages caused by stray balloons. This is especially true when it comes to metallic balloons, also known as Mylar or foil balloons. Metallic balloons are constructed from polyester and coated with a thin foil made from aluminum or another metal. The foil on these balloons conduct electricity extremely well, which can overload power lines. The result of these balloons coming into contact with power lines or transformers include explosions, fires, power outages, and injuries.
Recently, a metallic balloon in Cleveland hit a power line, and hundreds of FirstEnergy customers were left without power. First Energy spokesperson Lauren Siburkis stated, “They were without power for a couple of hours due to a balloon getting tangled in our electrical equipment. These balloons certainly do cause power interruptions to our customers. As popularity continues to grow with these balloons, so do the number of power outages, because customers are simply not aware of the dangers associated with these balloons.”
Lisa Rouse, Director of Outage Management at FirstEnergy, shared Ms. Siburkis’s concern in a press release. “These balloons are attractive and relatively inexpensive decorations,” she said, “but their metallic coating conducts electricity and poses a risk to our electric system. Stray balloons that drift into high-voltage equipment often cause power outages and other safety issues that impact our system.” About 220 power outages were caused by balloons in 2018 & 2019 across FirstEnergy’s service area.
Latex balloons, while technically biodegradable, take between six months and two years to break down. During that time, they pose a major threat to wildlife and the environment. Foil balloons are not biodegradable at all, so they continue to impact the environment for many, many years if not disposed of properly. Balloons also accounted for more than 18,000 pieces of debris among the Great Lakes from 2016-2019, according to a study conducted by the Detroit Free Press.
During repair of a line overloaded by a balloon, utility workers must also be sent up to handle the power lines and balloons, which is a dangerous task in and of itself. While utility workers are well trained for the tasks they must perform, it is still an unnecessary risk. A power line hit by a balloon can also be harmful or fatal to utility workers that are further down the power line- the short circuit can send an unexpected power surge down the line, shocking or electrocuting workers. Five states have already restricted or banned the practice of releasing balloons outdoors, and eight other states are currently considering legislation regarding balloon releases.
Balloons are a fun, fantastic way to celebrate occasions, but it’s important to remember to do so responsibly. Some suggestions and safety tips regarding balloons are:
Don’t celebrate with balloons under power lines or close to power stations
Weigh down helium balloons and keep them weighted until they are deflated
Be sure to deflate foil balloons after celebrating with them. They’ll stay inflated for several weeks otherwise, due to the polyester and foil construction.
Never try to retrieve a balloon, kite, or anything else tangled in a power line. Leave it alone and call the local power company to report the issue.
Limit the use of foil balloons to indoor celebrations and dispose of them properly.
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