Environmental concerns ground Epilepsy Foundation's balloon launch

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The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota's planned 60,000-balloon launch has officially been grounded.

The foundation released a statement saying it was "modifying" the event, after Critics cited numerous environmental concerns with balloon releases and peppered the foundation with requests to call it off.

"The event was intended to raise public awareness and honor the 60,000 people in our community with epilepsy," the statement reads, "but has been overshadowed by a debate between balloon manufacturers and vocal environmental groups."

The St. Cloud Times reports the foundation will still send out the balloons people had asked for. But it is not sponsoring any launching events, and instead asks recipients to send in creative photos or videos with their balloon, showing how they used it to honor a loved one with epilepsy.

"We envisions balloon sculptures, school children making art projects, decorating your office and more," the foundation says on its site.

The foundation's Facebook page featured a handful of comments thanking them for the decision.

The nonprofit Balloons Blow, which was an influential force in bringing attention to the planned balloon launch, said on its Facebook page it thanks "all our friends who spoke out against this irresponsible event!"

Said the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota's Executive Director Vicki Kopplin in a statement: "EFMN is a small non-profit trying to do big things. We regret that an event designed to bring awareness to our important cause has been caught in the crossfire of an environmental debate we are not qualified to enter. We heard the public's concerns and made the decision to modify our event."

The Epilepsy Foundation originally wanted to release 60,000 balloons – in recognition of those 60,000 people – from numerous locations throughout Minnesota and North Dakota on May 15. The celebration was called “Rise Above Seizures,” and was billed as a way to celebrate people with epilepsy.

But a number of people urged them to pop the balloon launch plan, citing environmental concerns. For example, when a balloon breaks apart and falls back to earth, animals can mistake the pieces for food and eat them.

The foundation responded, providing links containing balloon information and a study about balloon launches. The site says the balloons are made from “coagulated and dried sap from the Hevea tree, which is a 100% biodegradable material,” and decompose at the same rate as an oak leaf. And the cited study found balloon launches aren’t very harmful to the environment, if at all.

The St. Cloud Times previously spoke with a DNR official, who said the study cited by the foundation is old and not reputable. He added pieces of latex and mylar balloons have been found along Lake Superior’s shoreline.

The paper also reported the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency notified the foundation although balloon launches aren’t mentioned by name in the law, it could constitute littering.

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