Paul Scotthorne

Paul Scotthorne

Victoria floats above helium shortage

Global helium shortage shouldn't impact MRIs, UVic chemists – but balloon inflations could suffer

Helium is on the minds of many businesses and organizations and it’s not so their employees can talk in high-pitched voices.

There is currently a worldwide shortage of the mined gas, which has caused the price to inflate. And while some businesses have been unable to fill helium orders, the gas is still flowing in parts of Greater Victoria.

The shortage is being felt across the country, and in Greater Victoria some novelty shops have signs near the balloons explaining there is no helium on site. Some stores, however, including Party Crashers in Langford, are still filling balloons.

“I just ordered two tanks of helium and they just came in,” said Paul Scotthorne, manager and co-owner of Party Crashers. The store uses up to four tanks per week filling the orders of the 10,000 varieties of balloons it carries.

The store has been a loyal customer to its local helium supplier, Liquide Air, and has been guaranteed a supply of the gas.

The price of helium has been increasing, but the store has kept the floating balloon prices starting at $0.79.

Other than balloons and generating squeaky voices, helium is a crucial element used for both health care and scientific studies.

Helium is commonly used in MRI machines in hospitals to help cool magnets. Luckily the three MRI machines in the region are “newer, more modern MRIs that consume significantly less helium,” said Shannon Marshall, Vancouver Island Healthy Authority spokesperson.

There is one MRI machine in Nanaimo that requires more helium to operate.

VIHA isn’t too concerned over the shortage because, under contract, the MRI service provider is responsible for supplying the gas.

If the shortage becomes more dire, Marshall said novelty shops and other groups using the gas for non-medical services would be cut off first.

Helium is commonly used by University of Victoria chemists, but they haven’t felt the pinch either.

The gas is used to cool the magnets of a devices used to look at the nuclei of molecules.

Neil Burford, chair of the department of chemistry at UVic, said the helium shortage exists, and fears if the shortage gets worse the university will be left without the gas for its research.

“For us it’s not a matter of life or death, as it is in the hospitals,” Burford said.

Like VIHA, UVic receives its helium from contracts with service providers.

charla@goldstreamgazette.com

—–

Annual helium shortage

The helium Party Crashers uses to fill balloons comes from a mine in Washington State, said Paul Scotthorne, co-owner of the Langford store.

“The problem is the mine closes down for one month every year,” Scotthorne said, adding that this happens every year. “This year no one stockpiled.”

Scotthorne thinks the helium crunch will be over at the end of August.

There has been talk about infusing the helium with a little bit of oxygen to make the supply last longer, Scotthorne said.

Instead of 100 per cent helium in the balloons, Scotthorne said it would be about 94 per cent helium, six per cent oxygen.

With that gaseous combination, the balloons would still float.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This rendering shows the proposed warehouse for lands under the authority of the Victoria Airport Authority near a Sidney residential neighbourhood. (York Realty/Submitted).
Sidney calls on Victoria Airport Authority to improve design of planned warehouse

Council stops short of a definitive statement for or against proposal

The Victoria Police Department is looking for help identifying a person of interest after an April 29 hit-and-run. (VicPD handout)
Victoria police looking for suspect in hit-and-run investigation

The suspect was driving a four-door grey Dodge Ram 1500 truck

Mayor Stew Young presents the new park plan for Station Avenue in Langford’s downtown core. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Langford’s Station Avenue corridor getting its park

Dog park, food trucks and more in the works for railway land

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

A fire destroyed a commercial building on Idlemore Road early Tuesday. The fire is under investigation. (Kenn Mount photo)
Early morning fire destroys new Sooke distillery

Firefighters still investigating cause of Island Shiners Distillery blaze early Tuesday

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

Most Read