Thursday, February 21, 2019

Peña: Balloons problems


ONE interesting environmental story last year was the planned record -- breaking balloon dropping event at Cove Manila involving 130,000 pieces of balloons during the New Year’s Eve countdown. It did not push through because the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered the organizers to stop the balloon drop because of the huge amount of solid waste that the event would generate.

Okada Manila justified the event by saying that it will not harm the environment because it will be held indoors and the balloons will not be released in the air. They also said that the balloons are made of biodegradable latex materials and will be recycled properly after the event. Is this claim true? According to, natural latex may be biodegradable, but it contains chemical additives like plasticizers and artificial dyes. It may degrade after several years, but it’s surely not “biodegradable” like ordinary organic materials.

Since burst latex balloons stay long in the environment, they pose danger to wildlife. Many animals mistake them as food. The animal is usually killed when the balloon block its digestive tract, leaving it unable to take in any more nutrients. The ribbons or string that is sometimes tied to balloons will last years and can also entangle animals that comes in contact with it. The animals may die because they are unable to move or eat.

Dolphins, whales, turtles, and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals such as cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, birds and other animals have all been hurt or killed by balloons. The website of has pictures of balloons removed from inside a Hawksbill sea turtle, a Rusty Blackbird entangled in balloon ribbon and fragments of a blue latex balloon found in the stomach of green turtle.

Other than solid waste problem and death or injury to animals, the use of Helium in balloons is also a concern. It is contributing to the depletion of this finite resource. Once the Helium is released into the atmosphere, it is gone forever. There is no chemical way of manufacturing it.

Robert Richardson, the Nobel Prize winner in 1996 for his work on super fluidity of Helium, has issued a warning that our supplies of Helium are being used at an unimaginable rate and could be gone within a generation. He said it has taken 4.7 billion years for the Earth to accumulate its Helium reserves.

Helium is not only used to fill balloons. It is also used in cooling the superconducting magnets in Magnetic resonance imaging scanners at hospitals. There’s no substitute because Helium has the lowest boiling point. It’s also required for fiber optics, sea or space exploration, welding, supersonic wind tunnels, cooling nuclear reactors, life-saving medical procedures and diagnostics, cryogenics, laboratory research, lasers, LCD’s, rare document preservation, and breathing ventilators for infants and the ill.

There are other ways of celebrating birthdays or remembering a loved one that passes away than using balloons.


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