An annual Memorial Day balloon release in honor of Pennsylvania veterans killed in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001, has received criticism this year for its environmental implications.
However, the event’s organizer, Kendra Lynn, has no intention of making changes.
Lynn started the balloon release six years ago alongside Tunkhannock’s Memorial Day parade in memory of Staff Sgt. Steven R. Tudor, her brother who was killed in Iraq while serving the U.S. Army in 2007.
A post about this year’s event in the Facebook group “Good friends from Tunkhannock PA” received negative comments about how releasing balloons poses threats to animals in addition to littering the area with balloon remains.
Brian King of Tunkhannock, who also wrote the Wyoming County Press Examiner a letter to the editor about this issue, said if balloons land in hay fields and get gathered into hay bales, unsuspecting farmers could feed them to their livestock and kill them.
Besides ingesting balloons, wildlife can also get tangled up in their strings.
Along with nearby farms, another specific concern for this area is bald eagle populations along the Susquehanna River, he added.
Rebecca Lesko, naturalist and director of the Endless Mountains Nature Center, said balloons can travel over 15,000 miles. The balloons can impact bald eagles and a variety of other species such as hawks and turtles.
“It’s littering and I don’t know why it’s even legal,” Lesko said. “The sentiment to release balloons and acknowledge people who are missing or no longer here is wonderful, but it could be done in a much more environmentally friendly way. Why put things out there that are going to kill other animals?”
Lesko said she has researched biodegradable balloons, and even though some companies say they take the same amount of time to decompose as a leaf, this does not mean it mirrors leaves that disappear within a few months.
“These do not disappear that quickly,” she said. “They’re there for years.”
Other municipalities have outlawed balloon releases for the risks they pose, and King believes this area should move into the same direction, possibly with an ordinance.
Ahead of next year’s balloon release, he hopes to present research to local elected officials to help this cause.
“I would like to see local government enact some legislation and ban this,” he said. “This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
Lynn believes criticism about the balloon release is “absolutely ridiculous.”
She said the point many have made about avoiding harm to animals or the environment is understandable, and she doesn’t want to cause harm either.
However, she noted that people practice habits detrimental to these areas each day.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing any more with the balloon release than everyone does on a daily basis,” she said, listing plastic straws, Styrofoam cups and pollution from vehicles as examples.
“I’m honoring America’s fallen who have given their lives. So one day out of the year on Memorial Day, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
Lynn also said the balloons make an impact on people in Pennsylvania and beyond, as many have found the tags from the balloons and had meaningful reactions.
King is part of the Facebook group where people have posted comments against the balloon release.
“Every year there are hundreds of people begging her not to do this,” he said, noting that many politely suggested alternative ways to honor her brother, such as motorcycle poker runs.
Lynn said she makes efforts to help active military members, veterans and their families all throughout the year, including raising money during Christmastime and holding a bocce tournament fundraiser.
“This is a way I choose to do it,” she said. “This is not the only thing, however, this is the seventh year and I have so much support in the community. I’m not going to stop it.”
One of the moderators for the “Good friends of Tunkhannock PA” group who posted the event flier originally eventually disabled comments on the post, but didn’t remove it.
King posted about it on the group as well, only his post was removed.
“People get nasty in the comment section, so I understand why they removed it, but they didn’t remove the [original] post about the balloon release,” he said.
As a Navy veteran, King relates to Lynn wanting to honor her brother, but wishes she would find another way to do it.
“I’m a vet myself and I completely understand that,” he said. “I would be the first to help her do anything but this.”
Lynn said she has tried to incorporate biodegradable balloons into the release, but this is sometimes difficult because they are not always available in each color. Despite this, people are “still not satisfied.”
Last year, Lynn said she received just a few comments, but this year it has spiraled.
“The good people outweigh the bad people so the support I have is way more than the support I don’t have,” she said.