FORT WORTH, Texas, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- A worldwide shortage of the lighter-than-air gas helium has seen huge increases in costs for businesses that say they depend on it.
One of those businesses is Balloons Fantastique in Fort Worth, Texas, where owner Francey Freeman uses helium to fill the balloons and rental tanks at her shop.
"Prices have quadrupled," Freeman told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. "And the price just went up again a couple of weeks ago."
Supplies at the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve near Amarillo, where more than a third of the world's helium is produced, are running low.
Most of the world's helium supply comes from natural radioactive decay underground and can't be artificially created.
"Helium is the second-most abundant element in the universe, but here on Earth, it's rather rare," said Peter Wothers, a chemist at the University of Cambridge in Britain who recently warned the end of abundant supplies of helium may be near.
The pinch is already being felt by businesses like Freeman's.
A 240-cubic-foot helium-filled tank that she once rented out for $60 now goes for $175, she said, and a bundle of 12 helium-filled balloons, which for years was $10.50, now costs $15.
"The more prices go up, the less people are able to get it," she said. "Thank goodness I can still get it."
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