…by Anura Guruge
This is not a joke, a fallacy, a fabrication or a scare tactic. This is a fact; it is indeed true.
I had no idea, had never given it any thought. Never really had even thought about where we get Helium (though I was fairly sure that we didn’t get it from trees or cows).
I have since found out that Helium (He), a noble, inert gas, is the 2nd most abundant element in the known Universe (~24%) — Hydrogen, of course, the most abundant. But, it is expensive to extract and we are using a lot of it — most of it frivolously in balloons and I am one of the culprits.
I learned of the shortage, the hard way, to my cost. The theme for Teischan’s 6th birthday, on March 22, 2012, was unicorns. So Deanna ordered a big, inflatable Mylar unicorn head balloon from the Web. I also typically get about 20 helium latex balloons for her birthday from the Alton Hannaford’s. Getting balloons from Hannaford’s had never been a problem. So on my task list for the day, the balloons were not a red letter item. I was going to pick them up, ‘at the last minute’, on my last trip out to get things. On one of my earlier trips of the day to Hannaford I ordered the 20 balloons. In the scheme of things they don’t cost that much. Basically quite affordable. So, about 2 hours before the party was to start I roll up to Hannaford to pick up the 20 balloons and get the unicorn blown up.
The lady at the counter, who kind of knew me because Hannaford’s is my second home in Alton, started shouting at me! I was taken back. Usually strange women don’t shout at me; it is always women that know me, and know me well, that scream and shout at me. My crime was that I wanted the unicorn balloon inflated with Helium. ‘Don’t you KNOW that there is a shortage? I don’t think we can fill it for our standard price. It is a big balloon‘. I was taken aback. If it was just a matter of price, I would have, as ever, coughed up. So, this lady, now red in the face, and extremely agitated shouts: ‘I have to make a phone call. I want to talk to the manager‘. Man or more to the point WOMAN! She was carrying on like I had committed a crime. She calls up the manager. He/she was at lunch. To be fair the poor lady was conflicted. She just did not think that Hannaford should charge the standard rate, which I think was like $1.80, to inflate that unicorn. She wanted to charge me more.
Bottom line, she was overridden by the manager — though I ended up waiting 40 minutes to get the unicorn upright. Hannaford is a big Belgium corporation. They have policies. You can’t arbitrarily charge more for a big balloon. But, this lady had a point. She was right. I looked it up as soon as I got home. There is a Helium shortage. Helium prices have doubled over the last 7 years and they will double again in the next 2 years. Yes, Hannaford’s will raise Helium prices. [I had been told by an Hannaford employee that they were ‘British’ owned. Actually they are owned by a Belgium multinational. But, I can see the confusion. She knew it was a European country that started with a ‘B’ — and ‘British’ is better known.]
We really should stop using Helium for party balloons. I have cut back. Here are two articles that will explain why we have a shortage and why we will eventually (like in the next 50 years) run out: article from Popular Mechanics & article two from a Fox news station.