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Ameren Illinois warns mylar balloons are causing power outages

Mylar balloons, also known as foil balloons, and made from nylon with a metallic coating. The problem is the metallic coating makes for an excellent conductor of electricity, according to Ameren. Rubber balloons will not conduct with our electrical equipment.
Leo Correa
/
AP
Mylar balloons, also known as foil balloons, are made from nylon with a metallic coating. The problem is the metallic coating makes for an excellent conductor of electricity, according to Ameren. Rubber balloons will not conduct with our electrical equipment.

Ameren does not want to be the balloon police, but the utility company is warning the public about the dangers of letting balloons drift away from your outdoor graduation party, summer wedding or barbecue.

The U.S. had 800,000 balloon-related power outages in 2023, according to Ameren. Mylar balloons are also known as foil balloons. They are made from nylon and have a metallic coating. The improper disposal of mylar balloons can cause severe electrical damage and leave thousands without power.

“Believe it or not, if they are released and they float into say, our power lines, that metallic coating on the balloon actually conducts electricity, and as those balloons bang around in that equipment long enough. It can cause an outage,” said Brian Bretsch, an Ameren Illinois spokesperson.

Bretsch said balloon-caused outages are very preventable with proper disposal methods.

“Either pop the balloon or cut the bottom of it off, release that helium, fold it up, and then properly dispose of it in the trash,” said Bretsch.

Balloons have the potential to cause environmental harm as well.

“There are certain parks in and around the state of Illinois and across the nation that are actually now working towards banning balloons in parks. Not only the mylar, but the rubber balloons that can be released because when they land after they deflate. We’ve seen instances where the ribbons have been entangled around ducks and turtles,” Bretsch said.

Around Mother’s Day this year, Bretsch said balloons caused an outage near the Ameren Illinois headquarters in Collinsville, which left 13,000 residents without power. Bretsch said the company’s urgency to restore power brings about another set of dangers.

“Anytime that we have to remove balloons, we’re putting our line workers in jeopardy because we’re sending them up into the energized zone and that's where the power is flowing. They have to go in and remove those balloons and it can be tricky,” Bretsch said.

People rarely associate balloons with safety, yet Bretsch said it’s especially important during outdoor party season.

“Ameren Illinois does not want to be the balloon police. As long as you keep them tethered you’re fine, and again we just ask you to dispose of them. We don't have anything against balloons in general, [we] just want people to do the right thing.”

If you do see something in a powerline — whether it's a balloon or a tree limb or something else — don’t try to get that down yourself. Call Ameren at 800-755-5000.

Courtney Craft is a digital reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2024.