If you've tried to buy a bouquet of balloons lately for a birthday party or to cheer up a sick friend, you may have been told you're out of luck. That's because a nationwide helium shortage is bursting Michiana's balloon sales.
Collier has a 500-pound helium tank that's almost empty, so he bought a small tank at a department store for backup. That's because his usual supplier, Praxair Inc., with locations throughout northwest Indiana, says there's a huge helium shortage and can't get him any more.
"I'm sitting with all this balloon inventory and I have no way to use it," Collier says.But, helium is used for much more than making balloons float. It's used in cooling the magnets in MRI machines. And health officials warn the shortage could cause the costs of these tests to go up.
Notre Dame scientists who recently helped discovered the "god particle" also use helium in their research. It's also used to cool some nuclear reactors and it's found in many flat-screen televisions.
The shortage is blamed on a combination of factors.
In 1996, the government decided to get out of the helium business, some of the private companies that mine helium were knocked off-line because of mechanical problems, and years of low prices led to a small supply.
Those factors have left some businesses like Collier's seeing their profits deflated.
"I lose money, I lose good will, because they (customers) don't understand why there's no helium."
Several calls from WSBT to Praxair Inc. to find out when the shortage could end, have not yet been returned.