Worldwide helium shortage is threatening the festive balloon season as the shortage filters through to local retailers.

Although the helium balloons industry only uses eight per cent of the worldwide helium supply, some local party businesses in Australia are already feeling the pressure and will be relying on existing stock.

According to BOC\\$quot;s general manager of special products John Nicholson the shortages are a reality. He told the Australian Tasmania newspaper that the company was not getting enough to meet the demand.

He said one of the major sources in Kansas (USA) is down. "A range of issues on the supply side from the US has caused the shortage which has been an issue for about two months."

The United States has been in the midst of a helium shortage for a while now. Large-scale users that use helium to super-cool magnets in MRI machines, laser welding and space shuttle launches are not yet in crisis mode, but helium is in short supply because several overseas plants aren't up and running.

According to US officials, the major reason for the shortage is that helium plants in Qatar and Algeria have been off-line. Hans Stuart, a spokesman for the US Bureau of Land Management, said that one overseas plant has been undergoing lengthy maintenance and two are behind on construction schedules.

Not helping matters is a scheduled maintenance at the US Bureau of Land Management\\$quot;s (BLM) national helium reserve complex in Texas, which will curtail production for 10 days during this month. The BLM, which manages more than 400,000 square miles of public land, provides more than one third of the world\\$quot;s crude helium, selling the gas to private plants for processing.