Lawmakers want to shoot down Chinese lanterns

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By CARIN TUNNEY
Capital News Service
LANSING — Americans celebrate holidays by sending things up.
But popular Chinese sky lanterns can kill livestock, strangle wildlife and cause fires, experts say.
Sky lanterns are made of paper, cloth and string. They use wires or bamboo for support. So-called fuel cells made of cardboard and wax allow them to float when lit.
They can soar more than a thousand feet and travel for more than a mile, depending on winds.
And that makes them dangerous, said Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights.
Yanez, a former firefighter, has proposed legislation to roll back the state’s fireworks law and prohibit the lanterns. They’re already illegal in 29 states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Cosponsors include Democratic Reps. Andy Shor of Lansing and David LaGrand of Grand Rapids,
Citizen worries over fire hazards prompted the so-far unsuccessful try at a ban, he said.
“We heard from many of them that the sky lanterns were an issue too, and people were sending us news articles of fires that were suspected to be caused by sky lanterns,” Yanez said.
“It could land on a tree, it could land on a home, it could land in grasslands or forests, and a fire could start.”
The lanterns are often part of celebrations and tributes, and are even more common around the 4th of July. Although no major fires were reported this year, fire safety officials in many states issued warnings against using lanterns because of the risk of fire.
Light the Sky-Grand Rapids recently held a lantern launch at the I-96 Speedway in Ionia County’s Lake Odessa.
More than 500 people bought tickets to launch lanterns to raise money for refugees, said Dane Cannon, who works for the company marketing the event.
His firm was being proactive, working with manufacturers to reduce the flight distance to three-quarters of a mile or less, depending on the winds, he said.
“It seems like as we’ve talked to fire officials who’ve held these events in their municipalities that their main concern is fires only on the way up, not necessarily on the way down because on the way down you know that the fire is already extinguished,” he said.
The company used biodegradable lanterns. Cannon said he isn’t sure how long it takes them to biodegrade.
Many of the lanterns fell in nearby fields. Workers were out the next afternoon retrieving them.
Patrolling farm fields for litter that could be a hazard to livestock is a daily chore for Amanda Powell, who runs Oak Row Angus Cattle in Ionia.
“They look nice going up, but when they come down they have an impact on the environment and animals,” she said.
“We found one place where you could see it caught fire a little bit. It stopped, but it didn’t have to. If it had been a really dry year, it could have gone from there,” she said.
Powell said she’s found lanterns with wires in pastures.
Such wire can sicken cattle with hardware disease, said Jennifer Roberts, a veterinarian with Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
And metal objects caught in harvesters and ground into feed can kill livestock, she said.
It’s difficult to trace metals back to a specific item because they are often ground into food. But the metal wires in lanterns pose an obvious risk, she said.
“The way that cows digest their feed is that it goes into their stomach and she rechews it again later — she may not actually chew it and realize it’s something that she should not eat,” Roberts said.
Farmers often put magnets in cattle’s stomachs to prevent hardware disease, Roberts said. While lanterns made of biodegradable materials can likely be digested, no animal should eat trash.
“One big part of that is making sure that the feed is safe for them and isn’t going t