Price of Helium Soars

Prices for buying helium to fill balloons and rental tanks have dramatically increased in the past year, because of a worldwide shortage of the lighter-than-air gas. Florists and balloon sellers nationwide are finding it harder to do business because the supply of helium — a tasteless, odorless, colorless gas that inflates balloons and cools MRI machines — is not just getting more costly, but also harder to find. Texas is home to the country’s only Federal Helium Reserve, a site outside Amarillo where more than one-third of the world’s helium supply is produced, and the federal government has worked for years to deplete that supply. Congress more than 15 years ago created a law requiring reserve officials to sell off their helium — therefore privatizing the helium industry — by 2015. Some congressional leaders are trying to prevent the reserve from depleting its helium supply and closing its doors. “We cannot let our national helium supply float away,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Although it’s the second-most abundant element in the universe, helium is running out. The bulk of the world’s helium supply — which also is used in medical scanners, LCD screens, welding, electronics, metals, fiber optics, high-tech computer chips, aerospace and research — is created through natural radioactive decay and can’t be artificially created.

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