MARIETTA - Local florists already contending with high gas prices are now seeing the cost of helium float upward, too, forcing them to blow up not just balloons but also their prices.
The inflated prices are a result of a nationwide shortage of helium, the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen.
Carol Dixon of Marietta said she finds humor in the situation. "Over Mother's Day - we always like to get the helium balloons for gifts and bouquets - we went to the store and they said they couldn't sell us any helium balloons because the supplier is short and another store we went to said the same thing," Dixon said.
Besides being used to fill balloons, helium is also used to cool magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) magnets that create the magnetic field needed for the development of detailed body tissue images.
According to the Associated Press, helium is in short supply because of the 1996 Helium Privatization Act that called on the government to sell off most of its helium reserves by 2015.
"The last time I sent my driver to get helium he was told that we were lucky to get this tank because they were running short," said Chris Kiggans, manager of the Two Peas in a Pod florist on Front Street in Marietta. "We used to pay $125 (for a tank of helium), now it's steadily been going up."
Kiggans added the shop's balloon prices have not changed, but she anticipates they will be raised at some point.
At Aletha's Florist on Greene Street in Marietta, the price of mylar balloons has gone from $5 to $7 each, while latex balloons have increased from $2 to $3.
"We had a 40 percent hike in our helium just recently and that could be even more the next time," said owner Aletha Shirley. "We were told it's possible they may not be able to get helium next year. I called another supplier and they said they were only able to take care of the customers they already had, so it's an all over thing."
According to media reports, the Helium Privatization Act was passed in an effort to save the federal government money. It orders a sell-off of the government's helium reserves in the Hugoton-Panhandle Gas Field that spans Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The Federal Helium Reserve was opened by the United States in the 1960s, when many thought blimps would be vital to the U.S. military. By 1996, though, it was apparent blimps weren't so important to the nation's defense, plus the reserve was $1.4 billion in debt because drillers were paid to draw helium from natural gas in the Hugoton-Panhandle Gas Field.