Helium Shortage Affects Party Planners

RENO, NV - Typically we'd start the story with the sound of a balloon being pumped up with helium.

Not today.

“Yesterday. In the middle of the shift. No more,” says Nina Robbins with Party America.

At Party America, they don't know when they'll be getting in a supply anytime soon.

The tanks are empty out back, and the helium supplier in town says they don't know when they'll be able to fill the order.

“Some people look at you like you are completely lying to them. But, honestly there is a shortage,” says Robbins.

That's a big deal, the helium balloons make up about 14% of their business.

It could be even more when you consider the party items shoppers purchase when waiting for the balloons to be inflated, as well as the accessories that go with helium balloons.

That's forced the store to get more creative with their regular air filled balloons.

But balloons are not the only use for helium.

The gas is used in hospitals to cool magnets in MRI machines, its used in cardiac surgery. Its also used in medical research,.

The Bureau of Land Management says global demand for the stuff is the reason for the shortage.

While the BLM says we have plenty of helium in the ground, plant maintenance, new plants not on line yet, and the fact that natural gas--helium is a byproduct--is at an all time low price where there is no incentive to extract more---have, by accounts, contributed to the problem.

Helium balloons take a back seat when it comes to supplying the helium needs of medicine, research, and science.

Experts say that could mean helium balloons won't be readily available for the next nine months.

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