Metallic balloons are fun until the electricity goes out

Sunday, June 11, 2017

By BRIAN ROKOS | brokos@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise

 

Southern California Edison officials don’t want to pop your balloon.

 

Actually, they want you to do it.

 

With hundreds more electrical outages attributed to metallic balloons short-circuiting power lines in 2015 and 2016 than in previous years, Edison is mounting a campaign in large type on roadside billboards and movie theater screens, asking revelers to party carefully.

 

That means weighing down those metallic helium balloons you’re buying for Father’s Day on June 18, never releasing them outside and cutting them into pieces to dispose of them.

 

‘It’s about being responsible’

“We don’t want to be the party poopers, and we want people to have balloons as part of their celebrations,” said Paul Jeske, Edison’s corporate health and safety director. “It’s about being responsible.”

 

Just Wednesday, June 7, Jeske said, an outage triggered by a metallic balloon making contact with a power line knocked out electricity to 14,000 customers in Long Beach. And on May 1, a metallic balloon caused lines to melt in San Bernardino, putting more than 12,000 customers in the dark, Edison said.

 

On top of the lights going out, there is potential for traffic collisions when stoplights are off, shuttered businesses lose customers and Edison crews are put at risk.

 

Metallic balloons have become more popular in recent years. The foil can be made shiny and reflective, and because the material starts out flat, it’s easier to print fancy designs. And metallic balloons are more durable.

 

Fun toy, serious subject

Balloons should be a fun subject.

 

After all, the Balloon Council (yes, there is a trade association for balloon retailers; it’s in New Jersey) trotted out a costumed “SpokesBalloon” character named Faraday at a news conference about balloon legislation at California’s Capitol in May. (Michael Faraday, as you know, invented the balloon in 1824.)

 

And the council has a Responsible Balloon Retailer program, which includes sort of a Responsible Balloon Retailer Oath in which those that sign up promise to include a weight with all metallic balloons sold; ask about latex allergies when selling latex balloons; educate customers about smart balloon practices; and properly dispose of balloons, among other things.

 

But balloons are serious business.

 

The council has spent at least $80,000 on lobbying each of the past nine years. Deflation threatened the industry in 2013 when a federal law could have limited what was available from the Federal Helium Reserve (yes, there’s one of those, too). President Barack Obama signed a new law to avert the crisis.

 

And a bill authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, to close a loophole in balloon legislation is working its way through the state legislature.

 

Current law makes it a crime to release a metallic balloon outdoors — accidentally or intentionally —  as part of a public or civic event, promotional activity or product advertisement. AB1091 would make the release of a metallic balloon illegal if the rogue balloon were intentionally released and would make the release illegal under any circumstance.

 

The Balloon Council supports the law, said Lorna O’Hara, its executive director.

 

“We want to educate the public on smart balloon practices so we can be good corporate citizens and people can enjoy our products. We don’t like the negative stigma put on the (metallic balloon) industry,” she said.

Edison also supports the bill, Edison spokesman Paul Netter said.

 

Jaime Larsen, of Jurupa Valley, said Friday that she is aware of the dangers that balloons can hold and never releases them outside.

 

She and her family purchased a giant sunflower balloon at Alin Party Supply in Riverside for her mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Larsen doesn’t cut up her used balloons into pieces; instead, she said, her three children suck the helium out of the balloon so they can talk in weird voices.

 

“That’s how we dispose of our balloons,” she said.

 

BALLOON TIPS

  • Never release helium-filled balloons outside.
  • Always have them weighted down.
  • Cut them into pieces or puncture them when you are done with them.
  • Never try to retrieve a balloon that has gotten tangled in power lines.
  • Retailers should not tie metallic ribbons to metallic balloons.