By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - An Omaha man has sued the University of Nebraska, claiming the school's tradition of releasing thousands of red balloons into the air after its Cornhuskers football team scores litters the planet with pieces of latex and ribbon that can harm or kill wildlife.
Randall Krause argues in his lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Nebraska, that sending the balloons adrift with no plan to recover them amounts to a violation of federal laws governing the disposal of solid or hazardous waste.
"Either in pieces or intact, all of the balloons eventually come back to earth. On earth they become a hazard to wildlife," Krause wrote in a letter to the university filed with the lawsuit.
"Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or even kill them," he wrote. "In addition, many animals can become entangled in balloon strings, which can strangle them or hurt their feet and hands."
Krause seeks a ban on the mass release of balloons during Cornhuskers games at the university's Memorial Stadium. He did not respond to requests by Reuters for comment.
Steve Smith, a spokesman for the University of Nebraska, said the school did not have a comment on the lawsuit itself, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.
"It is, however, worth noting that every balloon released in Memorial Stadium is natural latex biodegradable. Also, the balloons are tied off with 100 percent cotton strings," Smith said.
In his lawsuit Krause claims that the balloons are carried hundreds or even thousands of miles by prevailing winds, where they either pop or land intact with its 4-foot-long "poly ribbon" attached.
He describes those ribbons as not biodegradable and lists more than 50 species of bats, birds, rodents and turtles that are threatened by the balloons or strings.
Krause also asserts in the court documents that children under the age of eight can choke or suffocate on deflated balloons.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by David Gregorio)