Balloon releases might be pretty, but they can have far-reaching environmental effects. Maryland lawmakers hope to stop them altogether.

Last week, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill making balloon releases illegal. This is not a move meant to penalize the individual child who loses their balloon, rather it targets the mass balloon releases seen at weddings and other celebrations.

So, are they really that much of a problem that we need a law? In short, yes, and the bill is on its way to the governor's desk for a signature.

Balloons that are released are essentially flying litter, waiting to drop somewhere, but they do more than dirty up our cities and towns. The mylar ones can actually potentially cause power outages if they hit power lines, and the rubber ones are a hazard for animals. Many marine animals mistake the balloons for food, and once they are ingested, the balloons can kill them. The strings from balloons are also dangerous, especially since they are so hard to break. These strings often get tangled around animals, maiming or killing them. This is even true of “biodegradable” balloons, which do eventually break down but take years to do so.

The U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service describes the problem of balloons on their blog, complete with some unsettling pictures.

“Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or even kill them," they say. "In addition, many animals can become entangled in balloon strings, which can strangle them or hurt their feet and hands.”

This law is intended to stop a fairly widespread practice and prevent the harm it can cause to innocent animals. As a coastal state, everything that we do has some impact on marine wildlife, so it makes sense to limit our negative impacts as much as possible.

If it passes, the law will require the Department of the Environment to enforce the rule, and violators could receive up to a $250 fine. This state law follows a similar ordinance that was enacted in Queen Anne's County last year.

What do you think of this potential new law? Let us know in the comments.