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Should Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade stop using helium in balloons?

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mi-spidey-balloon-460-03598407.jpgA Spider-Man balloon from Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, file)

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic holiday tradition for Americans, watched and loved by many, a celebration marking its 86th year. The parade is renowned for the giant helium balloons that float down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.

Over 50 million people watch the festivities from home and over three million people attend the parade in New York, according to Macy's.
But, as Slate Magazine points out, should the parade still feature the balloons, given the fact that the world's supply of helium is projected to run out in 40 years?

Other analysts dispute the timeline, but most agree that the prices of helium are set to rise as scarcity increases. 

This year there are 16 giant novelty balloons in the parade. In 2010, with 15 balloons, Live Science estimated that balloons used about  8.5 million litres (or 300,000 cubic feet) of helium

Aside from its use in parade balloons, helium is even more highly prized for its scientific value. Helium is used to cool MRI machines, launch rockets, manufacture LCD TVs and in cryogenics. 

Currently, the U.S. is the world's biggest supplier of helium and has the world's only storage facility for the gas, The National Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas.

But in 1996, the Helium Privatization Act was passed, forcing the U.S. government to sell off much of its excess reserves to private companies by 2015. 

Although helium is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, it's notoriously difficult to produce and purify for usage. And once it's released, it escapes the Earth's atmosphere very quickly and is lost to space. 

Here in Canada, party suppliers and parade organizers have already been feeling the pinch of a helium shortage.

In August, organizers for the Gold Cup and Saucer parade in Charlottetown were forced to use regular cold air instead of helium for their balloons.

 "Instead of flying up the air, they're attached to platforms and we just pull the platform along," parade organizer Heather MacLean told CBC News. The organizers also said that air balloons were cheaper than helium so they were able to have more balloons in their parade. 

CBC has also documented shortages in Windsor, Ont.ReginaEdmonton, and Nova Scotia

Meanwhile, Macy's parade organizers tell Slate that they've experimented with using smaller balloons, and combining air with helium in the balloons.  But, Macy's tells the site, "the technology is currently not there yet to reclaim the gas in a meaningful way."

What do you think? Should helium be banned from parade balloons?

Tags: Community, POV

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