Ban Mylar balloons

In “What’s helium-filled, foil — and harmless?” Terri Adishian says it’s unnecessary to ban helium-filled foil balloons.

Tell that to 2,000 residents of Menlo Park. On March 24, they came home to find no power. Why? Because a Mylar balloon had drifted into power lines and triggered a power surge. They were without power for several hours. The local police were dispatched to direct traffic at a streetlight that was out and provide to security at a shopping center.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time all over California, creating major inconveniences for residents and costing businesses millions of dollars a year. John Muir Medical Center in Concord recently lost power because of a Mylar balloon. And a Mylar balloon that brought down a power line in Stockton last month caused a fire near an elementary school. These are grave public safety concerns.


And here is the easy solution: Prohibit balloons with a metallic content from being filled with helium -- these are the ones that become entangled in power lines. This isn’t rocket science.

I wrote Senate Bill 1499 to halt the sale of helium-filled, metallic balloons not because I want to spoil the party but because these shiny balloons are damaging our neighborhoods and our business communities. Utility companies across California have joined with hospitals, firefighters, electrical workers and sheriff’s deputies to put an end to these blackouts.

There is an 18-year-old law on the books that requires balloon sellers to attach warning labels and weights to all metallic balloons. But that hasn’t done much good. Nor have public service announcements and fliers from the power companies.

Contrary to what the balloon lobby would like you to believe, the California Public Utilities Commission calculates that these balloons cause hundreds of serious problems for the utilities and grave financial losses for affected businesses and manufacturers.

Southern California Edison reported about 470 blackouts caused by these balloons last year. Pacific Gas & Electric confirmed more than 200 incidents resulting in over 12 million minutes of lost power. The cost to California businesses in lost production dollars is staggering -- hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted for every minute of down time. The total loss to utilities and businesses is estimated at more than $120 million every year.

In this season of graduations, picnics and Father’s Day parties, let’s celebrate responsibly. Bring on the balloons -- just make sure they’re not made of Mylar.

Jack Scott is a Democratic state senator from Altadena.

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