Balloon release tradition takes blows from critics

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 25, 2013

An annual tradition of launching helium balloons into the sky at the Sterlingfest Art & Music Fair is far from swell, according to environmental critics and a Sterling Heights city councilman.

On July 22, a Florida-based website called issued an alert on its Facebook page about the scheduled July 25 Sterlingfest balloon launch, which the alert deemed a “mass littering event.”

The message said asked the city to reconsider the balloon tradition and suggested other ideas, like bubbles or a laser light show. But the group said it received no reply.

“This annual mass littering event has been polluting the Great Lakes Region for years,” the message said.

The Facebook page and its two separate postings on Sterlingfest generated more than 160 comments and more than 240 Likes, and was also shared among Facebook users.

One person who learned about Sterlingfest on the Internet is Florida resident Craig Mazer. In an email to the Sentry, local media and city officials, he called on the city to jettison the balloon event.

“You KNOW this is harmful to the environment, so I'm not sure why you're insisting on polluting your own planet and causing harm to the animals we share it
with.” Mazer said. “You also know that this annual LITTERING event has been polluting the Great Lakes Region for years.”

Mazer told the Sentry that he learned about the balloon release on Facebook. He said he does not have roots in the metro Detroit area, and he is not affiliated with any activist group in his opposition to balloon launches.

“I just care about the whole of our planet, not just the area in which I live,” he said. “I hope that Sterling Heights cares enough to realize that the harm caused is far greater than any positives.”

Word of the opposition soon caught up to Sterling Heights Councilman Paul Smith. The councilman said in an email that he agreed with messages that opposed the helium balloon release. He called on City Manager Steve Guitar and other council members to support his opinion.

“This is a bad thing and a serious bit of negative publicity against our city,” Smith said. “There is nothing to gain by letting this go on, and some bad press is assured if it happens. We will have deflated ‘Sterling Heights’ balloons falling all over Macomb County and maybe Ontario.”

In an emailed reply, Guitar said the city is sensitive to environmental concerns coming from calls and emails. He said the city only uses “organic, biodegradable latex balloons” that are produced from rubber tree sap. Such balloons are supposed to break down as quickly as, or quicker than, oak leaves, he said.

“Although this event has been a tradition in Sterling Heights since 1980, based on the constructive feedback we have received, festival organizers will review the program and consider other alternatives that could be implemented during future Sterlingfest celebrations,” he said.

Guitar told the Sentry that Sterlingfest typically uses more than a thousand balloons during the annual release, and he had no estimate on the cost of that portion of the event.

He said the tradition has not sparked “significant opposition” in past years. Most of this year’s protests have come from out of state, but a few exceptions from Michigan residents, he said.

“We have not heard from any local residents on the issue,” he said.

2013 marks the 33rd year that Sterlingfest has been celebrated in Sterling Heights. Its activities were scheduled to take place July 25-27 at the Sterling Heights City Center campus, near Dodge Park and Utica roads.

Learn more about Sterling Heights at or by calling (586) 446-2489. More information about Sterlingfest can be found at Visit for more information on that organization.