JAMESTOWN — The United States is in the middle of a helium shortage, however now the problem has reached North Carolina.
Helium balloons are in short supply and prices are going up. Balloons can be seen at many festive occasions such as a dance at Jamestown Middle School. However getting a hold of them has become a challenge.
"We got what we could, what was available. But I just had to get what I could because you had to buy what was already blown up," said teacher Pamela Herndon.
Owner of Bears, Balloons & Beyond Renee Miller, the shortage is making sales fall flat.
"We can't even keep up with the demand because the supply is so low," said Miller. "It used to be that we would get 20 to 30 tanks per week and now we're lucky if we get one or two."
Now Miller's store is selling more air-filled balloon displays. Miller said a tank that would normally cost $75 has tripled in cost. What customers may not think of about balloons is that the helium gas is also used in the medical profession, which comes as a priority. Therefore balloons are being forced to wait their turn.
Liquid helium is used for many medical purposes, such as keeping MRI machines cool. Professor Liam Duffy at UNC Greensboro uses helium in his lab and has a way to recycle it.
"Right now people have been lazy and haven't been bothering to recapture it," said Duffy.
Yet re-compressing helium is a costly expense and Duffy said the natural gas is limited to only a few places around the world.
"But the problem is now since it's a finite resource it's running out and the price is shooting up," said Duffy.
The last severe helium shortage occurred in 2006 and 2007.