AUSTIN (KXAN) – It’s a standard of birthdays, graduations and baby showers — the Mylar balloon.
It seems like a perfectly harmless gift, but it can actually be quite dangerous, says Kendra Acosta with Pedernales Electric Cooperative.
“These balloons carry safety risks when they are not used responsibly or tied down properly,” Acosta said.
Mylar balloons are responsible for more than a dozen power outages in Central Texas each year, according to Acosta. In May, Anderson High School’s graduation ceremony went dark because of a rogue balloon. In 2019, these helium-filled menaces caused over 1,000 outages in California.
Some states even have laws in place to prevent people from releasing balloons, not just because of the damage they can cause to utilities, but also the environment. For instance, in California, you can be fined $100 for releasing a balloon.
“This time of year, we often see Mylar balloons causing outages,” Acosta said. She said it’s is because of the increase in outdoor celebrations.
How can a balloon cause a power outage?
Mylar balloons are made of a trademarked form of aluminum plastic film that doesn’t stretch, sort of like a nylon and aluminum hybrid. Unfortunately, aluminum is an excellent conductor of electricity.
Usually, a steady stream of electricity will flow along a power line, but if a mylar balloon makes contact with that line, the electricity will jump to it. This disrupts the flow and can create a power surge. Power surges are capable of damaging equipment on the line. Acosta says this can lead to blown transformers, downed power lines, and even fires.
Mylar balloons are not the only balloons that can conduct electricity. Acosta says that the ribbons used on latex balloons can also contain metal. No matter the balloon, she recommends the same things.
“Keep these balloons tied down, first and foremost,” she said. “Make sure that each individual balloon has a weight attached to it. Don’t bundle them together. Bundling will make it easier for them to fly away.”
Balloons are also awful for the environment
Surprising no one, releasing a bunch of latex or Mylar balloons into the environment isn’t a great thing. Balloons can survive for several months before decomposing. Helium, used in balloons, is also in short supply.
Because balloons can travel thousands of miles, it doesn’t matter where you release them. Many cities and states have now banned the mass release of balloons because of these issues.