Parties may be deflated by a national helium shortage


BELLAIRE – As graduates of the class of 2012 don their caps and gowns, the excitement for grad parties might be a little deflated with the lack of helium balloons. Helium is currently in short supplies, which is causing florist, stores and suppliers to raise prices, lessen the amount used in orders or to go as far as to not carry helium at all until the supply can be rebuilt.

“We have been keeping an eye on the shortage right now,” said Jackie Siekmann, Media and Government Relations Manager for Kroger, Columbus Division. “We have been proactive to keep it from getting out of hand and using minimal amounts of balloons (for stores and holiday displays) and only doing mass quantities to fill orders.”

Representatives from many other florists and stores that sell helium-filled balloons in the area said their businesses have not been effective by the helium shortage as of right now.

Helium is present in the atmosphere, but the commercial supply of helium, which has multiple purposes outside of ‘It’s a Boy’ and ‘Way to go Grad’ balloons, is obtained from the ground.

While florist and party stores are expected to feel this shortage primarily, other industries may also be affected. Many medical facilities use helium for operations to cool down scanners such as the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) magnets and industrial welders use the lighter-than-air gas to help keep the welds smooth. They have not felt this shortage yet, according to reports, but experts said the limited supply that will be available will be used by scientists, welders, radiologists and other professionals before it is made available in mass for consumer party balloon purposes.

The 1996 Helium Privatization Act allows the government to sell off most of the 11,000-acre helium reserves in the U.S. that can be found in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas by 2015. The mandated government sell-off was well below market price, which has contributed to the shortage.

Experts say the cost of helium will likely skyrocket once the federal supply is sold off and private industries take it over.

It was in the 1960s that the United States opened The Federal Helium Reserve, from where one-third of the world’s supply comes, with the thought that blimps would be an important asset to the U.S. Military, but that was later proven to be wrong.

Lawmakers in Washington are currently looking to take action to tackle this issue and change the way the government sells its helium reserves before industries that use this element in their operations are affected by a major shortage crisis.

(Times Leader News Editor Eric Ayres contributed to this report)

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