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Utility Isn't High on Graduation Balloons

Edison says popular helium-filled balloons short out power lines and cause outages.

June 14, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

Advice for the Graduate: forget about plastics. And hang on to that balloon!

With commencement ceremonies in full swing this month, officials at Southern California Edison are warning joyful graduates and their loved ones against releasing helium-filled balloons.

The wayward balloons, they say, are likely to drift into power lines, causing outages, breaking cables and in some cases threatening serious injury or death.

"People need to keep their hands on those balloons," said Tom Boyd, an Edison spokesman. "We're telling them to tie them down. Secure them."

In 2002, Edison recorded 209 outages caused by balloons. Nearly a third occurred in May and June, when people celebrate graduations and Mother's Day. Another surge occurred around Valentine's Day.

The problem is that helium-filled balloons, particularly metallic ones, drift into power lines and cause electricity to arc. When that happens, sensors cut the power flow. In other cases, a balloon or its string can bridge two high-voltage lines, causing thousands of volts to surge through the connection.

"Under the right circumstances, wires will snap or break," Boyd said.

The outages caused thousands of dollars in damage, knocked out street signals, and interrupted service for more than 290,000 customers last year, Edison says.

On Tuesday morning, metallic balloons caused 3,103 customers in La Mirada and Buena Park to lose power for about an hour, according to the utility.

But not all balloon retailers are convinced that their helium-filled balloons bouquets, arches and arrangements are such a menace.

"I don't know how any balloon release could cause a power outage, I just don't understand it," said Kimble Brown, owner of Any Occasion Balloons in West Los Angeles.

But Brown said she discourages people from freeing them to soar aloft and recommends that customers pop them with scissors after the party.

"Balloons are safe," Brown said. "There's nothing bad."

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