Mylar balloons, power lines can spoil party
Leah Ulatowski, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin 5:27 p.m. CDT June 3, 2016
SHEBOYGAN – With Sheboygan Area School District’s major graduation ceremony scheduled for Sunday and celebratory parties, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July just around the corner, residents might want to keep their Mylar balloons on a tight tether or risk spoiling the festivities for the entire neighborhood.
Annemarie Newman, a spokesperson for Alliant Energy, confirmed that Mylar balloons can cause power outages when they collide with power lines and added that they even be a fire hazard.
“Mylar balloons are metallic and can conduct electricity,” Newman said. “Power lines are uninsulated wires, which is why they are high up on poles. When Mylar balloons hit the lines, it can cause outages, equipment damage or even dangerous situations.”
A quick search of Youtube would show such an incident, such as video a Los Angeles resident took of a Mylar balloon causing a small explosion on the power lines in a residential area. A clearer video of a demonstration in Glendale shows much the same effect.
On the other hand, Stephani Swigert, owner of B’loonie Gifts in Sheboygan, explained that latex balloons are biodegradable.
Releasing balloons into the sky is a common practice during graduations, funerals and weddings, so Swigert makes sure to always encourage her customers to go the latex route.
“I’ve had customers tell me it is fine to use Mylar balloons for releases because they’ve done it before, but just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean you should have,” Swigert said.
Sometimes people protest that they prefer to buy the Mylar balloons at the Dollar Store to release because they are cheaper and bigger. However, Swigert said her shop offers 9 inch latex balloons at 95 cents in comparison to the 11 inch Mylar balloons at the Dollar Store.
“So, you can release those more safely and just as easily and it is costing you less money,” she said.
Stephani Swigert, owner of B'loonie Gifts in Sheboygan,Buy Photo
Stephani Swigert, owner of B'loonie Gifts in Sheboygan, says the balloon pictured is one of the many latex options they have for people who would like to do balloon releases at less risk than the Mylar alternative. (Photo: Leah Ulatowski/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
Swigert knows there are some people who are against releasing balloons of any kind, but when her customers are set on having a release, she encourages them to do it in the safest way possible.
“Sometimes we will even do latex balloon releases without the strings and just bag them, or if they want something to hold onto, we will shorten the strings, which means less risk of them getting stuck,” Swigert said.
Following Sheboygan Area School District’s graduation last year, Swigert said there was a power outage that officials at Alliant Energy told her could have been caused by Mylar balloons.
While Newman could not confirm the exact incident, she said Alliant Energy is concerned about the issue and wants to let residents know “it is very important to not let conductive material touch wires.”
“This is definitely something the industry is aware of, and we do have anecdotal stories about the problem,” she said.
Newman points to a blog post by We Energies last summer that said employees have witnessed violent explosions as a result of Mylar balloon and power line contact and explained that there is even risk of power lines falling onto residential areas, which could really put a damper on a party.
“Helium-filled metallic or Mylar balloons have caused more than a dozen power outages affecting more than 16,000 of our customers this year alone,” the 2015 blog post stated.
Swigert has tried to spread her message to school districts and has run into some roadblocks with people thinking she is advertising her business, but all the balloon fanatic hopes to do is inform the public about a very real problem.
“I’m not trying to make balloons sound scary,” Swigert said. “We sell Mylar balloons and they are great for events or gifts, but they’re not intended to be released. We let our customers know so they can make educated decisions.”
Swigert said residents are welcome to stop by her shop, located at 2530 N. 15th Street in Sheboygan, to ask further questions about balloon safety.
Mylar balloon safety tips
SafeElectricty.org has a few tips for keeping your Mylar balloons from blowing anything up this summer.
Keep balloons tethered at all times and attached to a weight.
When disposing of Mylar balloons, puncture them to ensure lingering helium doesn’t cause them to float and blow around if the garbage container is overturned.
If a balloon or another toy becomes entangled in an overhead power line, DO NOT attempt to retrieve it. Call your utility for assistance.
RecycleScene.com also has some suggestions for unique ways to reuse Mylar balloons that don’t involve releasing them to commemorate a special event.
Frame it; depending on the design, deflated Mylar balloons can be framed as memento of an event. Thin, black square frames that are intended for framing records work well. Puncture balloons with a pin to avoid big gashes.
Accessories; by cutting and folding Mylar balloons, crafty individuals can find instructions online to make wallets or even fake flowers.
Gift wrap; like newspaper, cutting up flat Mylar balloons can make for some unique gift wrap.