There is deflating news regarding the depletion of helium supplies worldwide. The United States passed a law in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle. The National Helium Reserve near Amarillo, Texas houses the biggest store of helium in the entire world but they have an agenda to sell it off by 2015, then what?
Robert Richardson, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for his work on helium, has expressed recent concerns about the squandering of the world’s supply of helium. You can read the news article in the NewScientist here. He actually believes that those $3 mylar balloons ought to be costing you about $100 each. Sort of puts a dent in the happy birthday celebrations, doesn’t it?
You can also view the Time’s Video, “Earth is Running out of Helium” here.
Who is using helium besides the gigantic balloons at the Macy’s Day Parade?
Since there is no other substance on the earth that has a lower boiling point than helium is makes for a great cooling resource and in the liquid form, it is used to chill MRI scanners.
Fiber optics and liquid crystal displays as well as neutron detectors use helium.
Scuba divers use a mix of helium, oxygen and nitrogen to breathe underwater.
Helium is used for arc welding in countries where helium is cheaper than argon.
It is used in cryogenic applications.
NASA uses massive amounts of helium annually to pressurize fuel tanks for shuttle missions.
Inhaling just a tiny bit of it will temporarily change the timbre and quality of the human voice. (I know because I have personally done this!)
What will become of those gigantic balloons that grace the streets on the Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Parade? Will the Goodyear Blimp go limp?
Or maybe just maybe, the government will wise up and rise up the price of helium for a world that insists on balloons that soar.
This year the Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Parade will kick off on Thursday, November 25th at 9 am EST. To date, there are no plans to recycle any of the helium used to inflate those big balloons.