A helium balloon ban is one way to deflate a celebration, but it may be a necessary sacrifice in the near future if humans want to avert a serious shortage of the non-renewable gas.
At least that's the premise of a speech set to be given as part of the 2012 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures by Dr. Peter Wothers, a fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry and chemist at University of Cambridge in England, according to the Telegraph newspaper.
Wothers and other scientists warn that there could be major implications for the future of human health if helium continues to be used as a filler for balloons, as the gas could run out in 40 years or so, according to the U.K.'s The Sun newspaper.
Helium isn't just use to bring life to a party, it's actually an essential component in a number of medical technologies, and it's entering a worldwide shortage. It is used to cool MRI scanners and is used in combination with oxygen to ease breathing for newborns and sick patients, according to the Telegraph.
“The scarcity of helium is a really serious issue," the paper quoted Wothers saying. "I can imagine that in 50 years time our children will be saying ‘I can’t believe they used such a precious material to fill balloons.' … If we keep using it for non-essential things like party balloons, where we’re just letting it float off into space, we could be in for some serious problems in around 30 - 50 years time. The gas is hugely valuable.”
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Helium is extracted from beneath the surface of the earth, according to the Daily Mail:
“Helium is produced for industrial use by separating it from natural gas which has been extracted from the earth - making it a non-renewable resource.”
About 75 percent of the international supply of helium is produced in the United States, according to the Telegraph.
So think about the future generations next time you throw a shindig, and maybe skip the balloons.