Shortage of Helium causing problems for several industries

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Brooke Barlow, who tuned 5 today, and her mother, Staci, bought balloons for Brooke's birthday party from Zurchers in Salt Lake City on Friday, September 14, 2012. There's a national shortage of helium effecting everything from the number of balloons you can buy to your MRI at a medical center.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A slowdown in sales of party balloons isn't normally an important economic indicator, but it may be the tip of an iceberg of trouble.

A helium shortage that started in May is stretching on much longer than expected and has now been labeled a "crisis" by federal officials.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," said Samuel Burton at the Federal Helium Reserve, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Amarillo, Texas. He said a "scramble" is under way to maintain healthy supplies of the gas for critical uses in the military, industry, even in medicine.

The shortage is ironic because helium is the second-most common element in the Universe. On Earth, it's captured as a waste product in natural gas fields.

Read more about the helium shortage on KSL.com.

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