British academic: Ban party balloons

Jessica Stanton Contributor
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A University of Cambridge chemist will advocate for a ban on party balloons at this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in Britain.

“The scarcity of helium is a really serious issue. 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,'” said the doctor, Peter Wothers.

The non-renewable gas is a necessity in hospitals, where it is used to cool magnets in MRI scanners and mixed with oxygen to allow ill patients and newborn babies to breathe more easily.

Currently, about 75 percent of the world’s helium comes from the United States. Scientists have been unsuccessful in finding a sustainable way of making the gas artificially.

Wothers, who is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, intends to assert that the current global shortage of the gas should raise questions about the ways people use helium. He notes that once the gas is released in the atmosphere, it is gone forever.

“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 to 50 years’ time. The gas is hugely valuable.”

A spokesman for Dr. Wothers defended his initiative in a statement to The Telegraph.

“Peter isn’t being a party pooper, rather he is using this year’s lecture series to draw attention to a serious scientific and societal issue: the worldwide scarcity of helium.”

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Jessica Stanton