ALTON, Ill. (KMOX) – Remember being handed a brightly-colored helium balloon when visiting a bank as a child? Apparently, that little slice of Americana is drifting away.
A nationwide shortage has prompted price increases and caught the attention of the chair of radiology at St. Louis University. Doctor Jeff Brown says helium is crucial for cooling magnets in medical MRI machines. “The only way to cool the magnet down significantly, and its got to get way down to about minus 452 farenheit is with helium.”
Brown fears the shortage will only get worse because much of the world’s helium supply is in an underground reservoir near near Amarillo, Texas. “I think there will be a solution, but at this time we just don’t know what it is yet.”
Bob Baxter runs a party supply store in Alton. He says beside the price of helium increasing suppliers just don’t have the product. “About a month ago we placed an order for about ten cylinders and we got two from our supplier. They were out and that’s all they could give us.”
Baxter says his store hasn’t had to turn anybody away yet, however he has seen customers buy fewer balloons, due to the hike in price to buy and fill them. Baxter says smaller retailers have begun putting up signs saying they are out of helium and don’t know when they’ll be able to start filling balloons again.
Brown says by 2018 or 2020 the helium supply could run dangerously low or run out, unless there is a solution.
He says private companies may choose to develop their own helium reserves, if economics dictate.