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Bursting Their Balloons?

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Balloons, once a source of unmixed joy for children, today evoke as many "Oh no's!" as ooh's and ahh's.

Disturbed by reports that balloons released into the environment have been linked to the death of marine animals, some children have begun to shun balloons, and schoolchildren have been active in lobbying state legislatures to act against outdoor balloon launches.

Under such pressure, legislators in Florida, Connecticut, and Texas have already responded by passing laws banning or restricting balloon launches, and California recently banned the release of foil balloons, according to Mark Brown, director of communications for the National Association of Balloon Artists. Several cities have passed ordinances labeling balloon launches a form of littering, Mr. Brown says, a term he thinks is unfair.

The youthful lobbying was prompted by reports in 1985 and 1987 that a whale and a leatherback sea turtle that washed ashore dead in New Jersey had, respectively, a mylar plastic balloon and a latex balloon in their digestive systems that may have contributed to their deaths.

Peter and Susan Hibbard, science teachers in Toms River, N.J., founded the Balloon Alert Project in 1987 to study plastic pollution. Mr. Hibbard says he suspects that the balloons had "some impact" on the animals' deaths, even though no link has been proved.

The Hibbards say they are not anti-balloon. Ms. Hibbard, her husband says, regularly uses balloons in science experiments with her high-school students, who then demonstrate their proper use to elementary students.

But the balloon industry is not taking the controversy lightly.

One manufacturer, Balloon City USA of Harrisburg, Pa., has filed a civil suit against the Balloon Alert Project, claiming the project's efforts have hurt sales and damaged the firm's reputation, says its president, Philip Levin.

The firm has also responded with "A Lesson About Latex," a comic book presenting the industry's arguments that the marine deaths may well have been unrelated to the balloons and that latex balloons are a natural, biodegradable product. The comic also includes three experiments schoolchildren can perform to prove the biodegradability of latex balloons.--vlj

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