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Scientists Speak Out Against Wasting Helium in Balloons

Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) writes | about a year and a half ago

Science 0

Hugh Pickens writes writes "BBC reports that Tom Welton, a professor of sustainable chemistry at Imperial College, London, believes that a global shortage of helium means it should be used more carefully and since Helium cools the large magnets inside MRI scanners — the medical devices that provide doctors with detailed images of what is happening inside their patients' bodies, it is wrong to use Helium for balloons used at children's parties. "We're not going to run out of helium tomorrow — but on the 30 to 50 year timescale we will have serious problems of having to shut things down if we don't do something in the meantime," says Welton. "When you see that we're literally just letting it float into the air, and then out into space inside those helium balloons, it's just hugely frustrating. It is absolutely the wrong use of helium." Two years ago, the shortage of helium prompted American Nobel Prize winner Robert Richardson to speak out about the huge amounts of helium wasted every day because the gas is kept artificially cheap by the US government and to call for a dramatic increase in Helium's price. But John Lee, chairman of the UK's Balloon Association, insists that the helium its members put into balloons, was not depriving the medical profession of the gas. "The helium we use is not pure," says Lee. "It's recycled from the gas which is used in the medical industry, and mixed with air. We call it balloon gas rather than helium for that reason.""

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