Worldwide helium shortage bursting party shops

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Demand is rising... and supply? Well, it's about to burst. We're talking about helium. There's a world wide shortage and area party stores are feeling a little deflated.

"This year is probably affecting us the most. we're on allocation. We can't order as much as we want to order. Prices are higher," said Steve Fram. He owns two Party City's in the Richmond area. Here- helium is big business.

"Our biggest concern is the shortage. if they cut back how much we can get and someone comes in and they want 2 dozen balloons for their party and it's late Saturday afternoon. we say sorry, we just ran out helium," said Fram.

Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, but on Earth it's relatively rare- found trapped underground with natural gas.

Helium's uses are vast-- besides balloons, it cools MRI machines in hospitals. The Defense Department uses to make rocket fuel. It's essential for flat screen TVs. All these demands- but supplies have stayed the same.

Robert's Oxygen is one of central Virginia's main helium suppliers. The company told NBC12 it's made getting helium to hospitals the priority during this crunch.

Party City is now using fewer balloons in displays at the store, hoping to keep supplies afloat for its busy graduation season. The store actually takes a loss right now when it rents out helium tanks.

"We've been doing everything we can to hold prices. We have not been passing these increases onto customers, but I don't know how long we can hold onto the prices," said Fram.

We checked in with the VCU Medical Center to see how helium supplies are holding up there. The school would not answer any questions- only saying the helium shortage is not an issue for VCU.

At our current rate of consumption, some scientists say the Earth will be virtually helium-free by the end of the 21st century.

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