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A Town Day plea: Hold on to your helium balloons

Select Board Chairman Lenard Diggins, writing on behalf of the Town Day Committee, provided the following alert:
Town Night fireworks, 2017Look up at fireworks, not helium balloons.

The 2022 Town Day Committee respectfully requests that you try to keep balloons secured and from flying away on Town Day. Below is a letter to the Select Board regarding the hazards of released balloons, and below the letter are links to additional reading material.

Letter writer Grant Cook of Arlington offers to follow up with anyone who has questions or wish to discuss this matter more with him. Reach him at grant_cook at

The board is not banning the distribution or release of helium balloons; we hope you will agree that avoiding the release of balloons is a good thing.

To: Arlington Select Board
CC: Diane Welch, APD animal-control officer

I am writing to make a request about our upcoming Town Day celebration. I’ve attended many Town Days in my years in Arlington, and a common thread is usually a pretty constant stream of helium balloons, released by a variety of hands, usually small ones, flying into air over Mass. Ave., drifting eastward on the prevailing winds. During a busy time of the day, there would be usually a steady stream, 1 or 2 in the air, at any moment.

I decided to try to take some action to ask this body, as owners and planners of the event, to try to educate booth participants that this is not a positive thing, and hopefully through that education, diminish or eliminate the potential for free release of balloons during the day. I believe that tent hosts have other options for giveaways or favors that will be received just as well or better than helium balloons.

Balloons released into the air end up back on the ground – that is a sure thing. They can take between six months and four years to degrade, even ones marketed as biodegradable. The litter can cause great environmental damage. Birds, turtles, other wildlife mistake them for food like squid, and ingesting latex can kill them – soft plastic blocks their digestive tracts. In a study, 1 in 5 seabirds that ingested a balloon fragment died from it. The strings can entangle wildlife, trapping or suffocating them. And plastics in our watershed and oceans is a problem continuing to grow.

There are situations where balloons can be managed with care – indoors, weighted as part of decorations, etc. Giving them out in high volume to children outdoors as favors is not one of them – I know because I have a vivid memory as a kid of playing with a string and losing a balloon into the air. Accidents happen, and kids won’t exercise a standard of care to keep them from getting loose.

At the last full Town Day, there were only two booths giving them out . . . but I am hoping that since the application asks about items like helium tanks, there is a moment to take a minute or two to make applicants aware of the downsides of giving away filled helium balloons as favors and ask them if they could perhaps make a different choice.

Thank you for your consideration.


 This news announcement, which includes opinion, was published Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. 

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