Helium Shortage Threatens More Than Balloons

The nation's supply of helium is running out fast, and effects are widespread

By Michelle Valles and Daisy Lin
|  Friday, May 25, 2012  |  Updated 7:29 PM PDT
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A helium shortage nationwide affects more than just party balloon suppliers -- who, like Shawn Agheassi, owner of Elegant Balloon in Studio City, are definitely suffering. But medical equipment manufacturers and electronics-makers are threatened by the dwindling supply as well. Michelle Valles reports for the NCB4 News at 5 p.m on May 25, 2012.

A helium shortage nationwide affects more than just party balloon suppliers -- who, like Shawn Agheassi, owner of Elegant Balloon in Studio City, are definitely suffering. But medical equipment manufacturers and electronics-makers are threatened by the dwindling supply as well. Michelle Valles reports for the NCB4 News at 5 p.m on May 25, 2012.

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It's peak season for balloon shops, but with a helium shortage, business is deflating.

Shawn Agheassi, owner of Elegant Balloon in Studio City, says he is losing customers daily, and that business is down 50 percent.

"I’m surviving right now, but struggling," Agheassi said.

Agheassi is struggling with a dwindling supply of helium globally -- a problem that's affecting medical suppliers, television manufacturers -- and party businesses.

"Years ago it was like $30 to $40 a bottle. Now it’s $168. Yes, a tank.  And I’m lucky if I get one or two,”  Agheassi said.

He says his helium suppliers are even getting out of the business.

"I was talking to the supplier and he was crying. He said, I have a million dollar business and I don’t know what to do. I don’t have helium to sell it," Agheassi said.

Helium is a natural byproduct of the decay of radioactive elements.

In 1996 Congress mandated that the federal government to sell off the gas from its underground reserve by the end of 2014. That's caused all sorts of problems

The problem is, now we are running out, possibly in eight years, and this ballooning crisis is affecting more than birthday parties and other celebrations. Helium is used in hospital MRI scanners and in flat-screen TVs.

And once it’s out—it’s out.

"Helium, like oil, is created by natural processes, but it’s a very slow process," physicist Gregg Harry said. "So whatever is in the ground now is pretty much all that's available."

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