Helium Shortage May Burst Your Holiday Decorating Bubble

If you’ve visited a party supply store recently you may have seen a sign saying "out of helium." There's a helium shortage across the country, including South Florida.

Just weeks before the New Year’s celebrations, there is absolutely no helium at the Party City located on Pines Boulevard, just west of I-75 in Pembroke Pines. We spoke with a customer named Hilla about the shortage. She told us she was in Orlando a few days before where they were rationing the gas.

“All they allowed us to inflate was one. They said we could not inflate two because of the shortage of helium,” Hilla said.

While we associate helium with party balloons, the natural gas is used in the medical field in things like MRI machines. So, when there’s a shortage, distributors give the medical field the priority over balloons.

The federal government’s Bureau of Land Management or BLM operates the nation’s Helium Program. It used to provide 40 percent of the helium in the U.S., but after its last auction in July, it is no longer selling helium to private companies.

A change in federal law mandated the agency get out of the business when supply hit a certain point. Joseph Peterson, BLM’s assistant field manager, told NBC6 that companies have been finding alternate sources of helium. He said many are getting the gas from the biggest supplier in the Middle East, Qatar but according to him, “global economic uncertainty” is preventing helium from getting here as fast as it’s needed.

Peterson added it’s really not a helium shortage, but more like a “supply imbalance.” He said there was a shortage before in 2012 and eventually the helium will get to normal supply.

Red Balloon Party Rental is one of several South Florida event companies affected by the shortage.

“We are struggling as decorators that we use helium balloons, very popular nowadays, and we need to find alternatives using air to do our decorations,” said Red Balloon’s Brigitte Chio Acosta.

The company has gotten creative to find ways to make balloon arrangements that don’t require helium. Decorators instead use rods and magnets to hold up balloons.

Party City told us in a statement:

“The shortage of helium supplies has impacted many industries. While Party City isn’t immune to these challenges, we are working aggressively with our supply partners and regularly receive helium replenishment to serve our customers in stores.”

NBC6 also found some Dollar Tree stores out of helium. However, we found one location with helium.  We saw several customers walking away with fully inflated party balloons at the The Dollar Tree on 158th and Pines Boulevard.

NBC6 asked Dollar Tree to comment about the shortage but didn’t hear back.

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