Feeling the pressure of a helium shortage - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Feeling the pressure of a helium shortage

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Shortages of oil usually dominate headlines, but the shortage of another natural fuel could soon impact businesses from party shops to hospitals. There is a worldwide shortage of helium, which is a by-product of natural gas.

It's known for keeping balloons afloat, but helium does so much more. In an MRI machine liquid helium cools down the large magnets inside. At Covenant Medical Center the supply of helium is down, but according to MRI Technician Christie Glaspie, the shortage hasn't impacted how and when they treat patients.

"The people that came in and fill the magnet would let us know that they had only filled us to 70 or 80 percent instead of getting was completely full," said Glaspie.

Floral shops like the one at the University Avenue Hy-Vee have been warning customers that the price of balloons is on the rise.

"Right now a latex balloon is now $2.00 when it used to be a dollar. Mylar balloon used to be $2.99 range not they're $5.00 to blow up," said Store Manager, Jeff Suchomel.

With the price of helium going up a number of upcoming events could also be hurt, everything from graduations to Mother's day, to even birthdays could be without helium filled balloons.

"My advice is if you were planning on getting ten balloons before, get two. When you come in and get two, don't plan on maybe those two. We might not be able to furnish those for you. We're going to try our hardest," said Suchomel.

As for the hospital, this shortage couldn't end soon enough.

"It's just every time they come we wonder will they fill us up or will we have enough to get by," said Glaspie.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare has two other MRI machines in eastern Iowa which includes Mercy Hospital in Oelwein and Sartori Hospital in Cedar Falls. Sartori's MRI machine is new and it actually recycles its liquid helium, which means it uses less.

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