Deflating Supply

The cost of doing business is inflating for Lake Havasu’s Ann Lavasseor. Like other party retailers around the country, Lavasseor says she’s seen helium prices take a dramatic rise as the nation’s helium shortage continues. For local residents, that means it may be difficult to find those old celebration standbys, mylar balloons. A sign outside Dollar Tree in Lake Havasu City warns customers that the store isn’t selling the balloons because of the shortage. The lack of helium supply is also affecting hospitals and manufacturers. Lavasseor, an event coordinator with Party Express, says the price of a tank has increased from $80 to $200 in the last four years. “When prices for helium go up that means balloon prices have to be raised and we don’t want to make balloons pricey to consumers,” she said. Dollar Tree gets a helium supply each month, and when it runs out, the store must wait until the next month’s shipment from a Las Vegas supplier. Helium, a byproduct of natural gas, is extracted from gas pockets located beneath the earth’s crust. A reserve in West Texas stores the nation’s helium supply. Roughly four years ago, a worldwide decrease in the production of natural gas resulted in a tightening of helium supplies. Coupled with high demand, the shortage meant an immediate rise in prices and that doesn’t appear to be changing. Balloons, perhaps the most well-known of helium’s uses, account for a relatively small amount of production. The gas is also used to cool hospital equipment such as MRI machines, operation of air ships, certain welding procedures and for industrial leak detection. According to Chris Flores, chief operations officer at Havasu Regional Medical Center, the hospital isn’t yet concerned about the national shortage. “We don’t anticipate any impact at our hospital operations at this moment despite the shortage, ” he said. As for the future of balloons, Lavasseor doesn’t expect the bubble to burst anytime soon. “We are already starting to rethink the way we do balloons,” she said. “We may not have to fill them with just helium; we will have to start propping them up with sticks like the small balloons you find sold at stores,” said Lavassoer. We will keep finding ways to fill them with more air and less helium.”

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