Bye-Bye Balloon- The Great American Helium Shortage
“I’ll take 24 balloons”, I said to the Albertson’s florist. After all, it’s not a celebration without balloons, right?
I was quickly reminded of the helium shortage we’re facing in America. I remembered hearing about it recently but had completely forgotten. Christa and Melly were with me. “A helium shortage?” laughs Melly, “Can’t they just make some more?”
I was faced with the choice of having the florist fill as many balloons as she could and possibly walking out with 24 multi-colored balloons, or to settle for six balloons to ensure sure that little Billy gets his birthday balloons later on today. The girls and I walked out with half a dozen balloons as we began to discuss where helium comes from.
And, to answer Melly’s question, helium is actually an element. In fact, it’s the second most abundant element on earth behind hydrogen. Remember the element chart from high school chemistry? Helium is represented by the “He” on that chart (“oh yeah, that’s right”, we all chime).
The truth is the U.S. holds the largest supply of helium at the U.S. Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas. The current helium shortage is due simply to the fact that consumerism for helium is currently more than the reserve can harvest. Fueling the problem is the lack of cooperation from companies mining for other natural gas to capture helium as they simply let it release into the air.
Helium prices continue to increase for retailers and other industries which use the element for MRI machines and other medical related products as well as scuba equipment. Of course the medical industry is and should be the first in line to receive this precious element as it is being rationed by the government.
Some experts are saying there’s a big possibility that our supply of helium will be depleted by the middle of the century. It’s hard for me to imagine that my great grandchildren may never see a floating party balloon, but it shames me to conceive that one day our grandchildren will be talking about what a tragic waste it was that decades ago our generation wasted this finite element to fill party balloons.
Is it time to say “bye-bye” to the balloon?
To learn more:
Video from CBS This Morning