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Davis, California

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

California bill may ban helium-filled metallic balloons

California became the first state to ban helium-filled metallic balloons under a bill unanimously approved by a California state senate committee Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor, state senator Jack Scott (D-Altadena) implemented this bill to prevent further power outages caused by metallic balloons tangled in power lines.

Lorinda Ferrell, a partner at Continental Sales, a professional wholesale balloon distributor, said she is against the bill and believes it won’t solve the problem.

“All that Senator Jack Scott is trying to do is prevent power outages,” she said. “It’s something we would like to do, but outlawing sales on helium-filled metallic balloons won’t accomplish that.”

Instead, outlawing salesof these party balloons can lead to bigger problems and they may be filled unprofessionally, she added.

“If they’re sold deflated, anybody can just buy any disposable helium and inflate it on their own,” Ferrell said. “This law isn’t going to solve the outage problems and taking inflation away from the balloons can potentially make the problem worse.”

The material on metallic balloons conducts electricity and can cause damage to the power lines, said UC Davis physics lecturer Rod Cole.

“[The metallic balloon] is basically a conductor and what happens is that you have high voltage lines and there’s a potential difference measured in volts between the lines,” he said. “The balloon passing between the conductors on the lines shortens the path between them and cancause an electrical arc. This causes a big voltage spike in the power lines, which burns out transformers and causes power outages.”

Cole said the process is similar to a thunderstorm.

The potential difference between the cloud and the ground becomes large so that it is able to rip electrons off the air molecules, ionizing it. When this happens, the free electrons flow in the air, making a conducting path, he added.

Banning metallic balloons may also hurt businesses and grocery stores.

“About half of the profits come from foiled balloons,” Ferrell said. “It certainly would have an impact on grocery stores that carry foiled balloons. At the professional market, I don’t think it would have much of an impact because there are a lot of ways to work around or with it.”

UC Davis first-year biochemistry major Huy Phan said he found the bill surprising.

“Although the state is trying its best to make California a better place with such a random law, I don’t think our state politicians should spend time and money on such a trivial issue,” Phan said. “We have far more important issues to tackle down.”

 

JANET HUNG can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com XXX.

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