Monday, January 14, 2013

My Balloon Boycott

I don't let my son have helium balloons. He has often been offered free ones when we go to the grocery store or have our hair cut, etc. I always politely decline. Yeah, I know I am a mean Mommy. It isn't because I am afraid he will pop it or lose it and have a melt down, or that I don't want him sucking on it to make his voice sound funny.

On the off chance that down the road, my choice means more Heliox for someone else's newborn child to be able to breathe or someone with a serious illness can be properly diagnosed via an MRI, I think he can do without a few hours (at most) pleasure a helium balloon can bring.

Helium supplies in the United States are running low, and we produce 2/3rds of the world's supply. So our grandkids or great grand kids won't have party balloons, big whoop. Well, helium is used for more than that:
  • When combined with oxygen it produces Heliox which is used by deep sea divers and to save newborn babies with breathing problems.
  • It cools the magnets in an MRI machine which is used as a diagnosis tool for everything from ligament tears to heart disease and cancer.
  • It is used for cooling infrared detectors and nuclear reactors and is crucial for research into creating a waste free nuclear reactor.
  • NASA uses it to prevent rocket fuel from exploding.
So if Helium is the 2nd most common element on the planet how are we running out?
"In 1996, the US Congress decided to sell off the strategic reserve and the consequence was that the market was swelled with cheap helium because its price was not determined by the market. The motivation was to sell it all by 2015," Professor Richardson said. The basic problem is that helium is too cheap. The Earth is 4.7 billion years old and it has taken that long to accumulate our helium reserves, which we will dissipate in about 100 years. One generation does not have the right to determine availability for ever." Soon after helium mining was developed at the turn of the previous century, the US established a National Helium Reserve in 1925. During the Second World War, helium was strategically important because of its use in military airships.
- The Independent

That article was written in 2010, and of course the situation has gotten even worse. But, late last year the Chairman of the House National Resourses Committee drafted legislation to do something about it. I don't know if that will solve the problem, but at least someone seems to be paying attention. Hopefully there will be enough supplies to last until science can figure out how to create it or come up with an alternative for its critical uses. In the meantime, I will continue my one woman Balloon Boycott.

Just thought you'd want to know.


  1. Whoa. I had no idea this was even an issue. Thanks for the education!

  2. Very interesting. I know that the local stores around here are out of helium for balloons at this time so I knew there was a shortage.


  3. I did know about the helium shortage, but did not know of the critical uses for it - certainly more important than for giveaway balloons. Thanks for the info AND for the boycott.

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    ― Margaret Mead

  4. Wow! I had no idea of the shortage, or the uses. I am floored. I hope they can solve this problem. Parties are fine without the hellum balloons! Seems like a waste now that I have learned about its value.

  5. I did not know that! I heard there was a shortage of helium, to which I thought, "oh the boloney people think up these days!" So this is good information for me! I am on a balloon boycott because they pop or the sky steals them, which causes a lot of crying. This causes a giant mommy headache.

    1. In your case, they get a little help popping from Henry (and maybe Charlie too).