Helium shortage is no laughing matter for local balloon suppliers
Dmitrry Vaysman puts balloons on the table for a party. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:26PM
Alex Vaysman says customers often find it hard to believe when he tells them there is shortage of helium to fill balloons.
“It’s certainly a subject (of concern) and when you tell people, they think you’re joking,” said Vaysman, whose father Dmitriy owns Balloon Lab, a company in Vernon Hills that designs balloon arches, columns and balloon drops for weddings, birthday parties, and other special events.
But the shortage of helium is no laughing matter for companies that need it. Finding helium from suppliers is becoming more difficult and expensive.
“We do have a shortage of helium and tanks are so expensive,” said Vaysman. “A tank that would normally cost $80 could easily cost us $350.”
The helium shortage means there will be fewer of the huge balloon characters at this Saturday’s Libertyville Days Parade.
In past years, the festival has typically had eight helium balloons in the parade but there will only be three this year, according to Lory Zimmerman, parade chairman for Libertyville Days.
Zimmerman said Libertyville Days was unable to get helium from its normal supplier due to the shortage but was able to secure a small amount through another supplier so they will have a few of the big balloons in this year’s parade.
“I expect that this is the last year we’re going to be able to do it,” she said.
Zimmerman said there is apparently worldwide shortage of helium and the U.S. stockpile of helium reserves is dwindling.
The shortage is also affecting Joanne Boehm, owner of Balloon Productions, a certified balloon artist from Libertyville. The company does balloon displays for weddings, parties and other special events.
Boehm said one of her helium suppliers in Waukegan told her that they now only sell helium for medical uses and she has to get all of her helium from another supplier in Chicago.“It usually takes me an hour to go into Chicago to pick up my helium,” she said.
“There’s no helium for balloon inflation at this time,” she said. “There’s a very limited amount.”
To compensate for the lack and higher cost of helium, Boehm said she sometimes has to use a mixture of helium and air for balloon inflation, or other cases designs balloon displays which do not need helium.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “All of the helium artists in the Chicago area are being impacted.”
Helium is also used for certain medical products. For example, it is used as a cooling agent in MRI machines.
Josh McColough, manager of public affairs for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said so far the hospital has been to get helium it needs for medical purposes.
“According to our people in radiology, they have not been impacted at all by the helium shortage,” he said. “At this point, they did not indicate it was a concern.”