Mylar balloons blamed for power outages


MADISON COUNTY, Ill. ( — Balloons popular for birthday parties and graduation celebrations are being blamed for at least three power outages in the Metro East since April. Each outage affected more than 1,000 customers. 

“I was just sitting here and all the electric went out. My computer went out and everything,” said Jim Litchfield, owner of Big Jim’s Autorama in Madison, Illinois. 

Litchfield was in the dark for hours when his power went out for about a month ago. Ameren Illinois said Mylar balloons were to blame for the outage that affected his area. For Litchfield, no power means no business. 

“I have to issue plates through the Secretary of State on my computer so I can’t sell cars, I’m out of business,” said Litchfield. 

Litchfield said he had to turn away a customer who wanted to buy a $10,000 car that day. He didn’t realize balloons caused the outage until News 4 told him.

“That’s a little distressing. I didn’t even know that they did that but yeah that’s concerning,” said Litchfield. 

Brian Bretsch, spokesperson for Ameren, Illinois said it’s the metallic on the Mylar balloon that causes the outages. 

“If the balloon actually explodes, which most of them do, when it pops the material goes everywhere and what we like to tell people is it’s like if you have any children who have ever had gum in their hair, our linemen actually have to remove that, all the particles in that melted property of that metallic balloon from our equipment,” said Bretsch. 

Regular helium balloons don’t have the same effect, though they can cause issues like getting tangled in the lines, forcing crews to temporarily turn off power to remove them.

“We want everyone to celebrate. Everyone was cooped up, but if you’re going to have these celebrations just please dispose of these balloons properly,” said Bretsch. 

Ameren Missouri said Mylar balloon-related power outages are definitely an issue.

The utility company in Missouri and Illinois is adding more underground power lines. The plan is to build them in newer residential areas, not replace current above ground power lines due to the cost. 

The other concern with releasing balloons is the environmental impact. Several states including California, Florida, and Tennessee have banned mass balloon releases. An Illinois lawmaker tried to introduce similar legislation this year that would make it illegal to knowingly release a large amount of balloons. The bill passed the full House, but died in the Senate. 

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