Posted Jun 7, 2017 at 6:35 PM
Updated Jun 9, 2017 at 9:46 AM

BOSTON — A group of elementary school students from Provincetown had quite a civics lesson when they traveled to the Statehouse on Tuesday.

Eric Shannon’s third-grade class from Provincetown Elementary School attended the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture’s hearing on a bill that would ban the sale, use and distribution of helium balloons in Massachusetts. Seven of the 19 students in the class testified before the committee in favor of the bill.

The bill was filed by state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, at the urging of the students, who are listed as petitioners on the bill along with state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro.

“I visited Mr. Shannon’s third-grade class in January where the students presented me with their compelling research regarding the harm released balloons can cause to turtles, marine mammals and wildlife. Together we drafted and filed this bill,” said Peake in a statement.

The students testified about the harmful effects of helium balloons on the environment, including the entanglement of animals in the strings and consumption of balloons by land and ocean animals. They also discussed the finite resource of helium, which takes millions of years to regenerate.

“They did absolutely awesome,” Shannon said.

Shannon said the effort began in September when the students saw a video of a sea turtle that had died after eating a balloon.

“They felt terrible,” he said, adding that this inspired them to draft a petition and send letters to Gov. Charlie Baker and Peake.

“That is absolutely wonderful,” said Stephanie Ellis, executive director of Wild Care in Eastham, when told of the children’s effort.

Wild Care provides rehabilitation services to sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.

Many animals mistake the balloons for food and the strings for nesting materials, leading to choking and strangulation, according to Ellis. Last year, Ellis said she found a migratory songbird on a Cape beach that had died of a balloon-string entanglement.

Ellis said she believes helium balloons should be outlawed not only in the state, but nationwide. She also urges alternatives to balloon releases to celebrate or memorialize people, including blowing bubbles, planting a tree or flying a kite.

“There is an issue when helium balloons are released into the air because, ultimately, they fall back down to Earth,” said Rob Halpin, director of public relations for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Just like we see ocean life ingesting plastic, they can also ingest these deflated balloons, which can be problematic because they can’t digest them,” Halpin said. “They don’t always fall in water, either. When they fall on land, wild animals make can make contact with them. Unlike dogs and cats, which can usually eliminate them or have them surgically removed, that’s often not the case with wildlife.”

As if the day weren’t already exciting for the children, Shannon said their school bus broke down near Braintree on the way to the Statehouse, and they took the subway in and out of Boston. On the return trip, they took a commuter bus to Hyannis, where a replacement school bus was sent to pick them up.

“It was a very interesting day,” he said.

Follow Geoff Spillane on Twitter: @GSpillaneCCT.