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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Helium shortage forces Cumbrian shops to ration gas-filled balloons

A worldwide shortage of helium is forcing Cumbrian party shops to ration gas-filled balloons at weddings, Christenings and birthday parties.

Zoe Freeman photo
Zoe Freeman, from Margies, blows up a helium-filled balloon

The shortage has been caused by a massive surge in demand over recent years because of the growing popularity of helium balloons at celebrations.

Patrick Bisset owns Crown Celebrations with shops in Whitehaven and Workington. He said: “I was given a quarter of my normal ration in the last delivery of helium. It’s being rationed to one bottle per company and you have to swap an empty bottle for a full one.

“The price has doubled in a month. My Whitehaven store has enough for the coming week but Workington doesn’t.

“Helium is massively important to the business, a party without balloons is like roast beef without Yorkshire pudding.”

Helium is a naturally occurring gas that is released as a by-product of the petrochemical industry and is lighter than air.

It is also used in research and the medical service, which get first call on the supplies with the party industry getting what’s left. “Anyone who comes in with an order for two weeks ahead, we have to say no to,” added Mr Bisset. “We’re telling people to come in the week leading up to their event then we know if we’ve got enough helium for what they want.

“Last Sunday, we did 11 Christenings and needed to fill 400 balloons. Demand is outstripping supply and people are going to go out of business.

“We’re being very particular about what we do with the helium we have. We no longer blow up people’s own balloons because we have to maximise profit with the little we have.”

It is believed that only 20 years supply of helium is left in the world and companies are already looking for alternatives.

One American firm is developing a fine wire that could be used to hold up air-filled balloons and mimic the helium effect.

Margaret Scott, owner of Margie’s Sugarcraft on Viaduct Estate Road in Carlisle, said: “The only alternative is to put your balloon on a stick. We got one canister this week, which is half gone and I don’t know when we’ll get some more.

“I know some of the shops in town have run out and the price has gone up. It costs £1 for a latex balloon filled with helium and the foil ones are £3 each. The shortage will affect the party side of the business quite a bit if we don’t manage to get another supply.”

Have your say

A simple google search would of uncovered this article from Forbes magazine - http://www.weldingandgasestoday.org/blogs/Devin-OToole/index.php/2012/05/two-myths-surrounding-the-helium-shortage/

Posted by please research your articles before posing on 25 September 2012 at 14:05

Helium is the second lightest element after hydrogen, but the point about it escaping Earth's gravity is valid. The sun is constantly fusing hydrogen into helium, although it is no use to us there! As has been said, helium is produced (incredibly slowly) through radioactive decay deep within the Earth's crust, and drilling operations liberate it as a by-product - it is not and never has been made from oil. If we perfect nuclear fusion we may be able to produce helium, but until then there is a limited amount available.

Posted by Darren Robinson on 22 September 2012 at 10:39

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