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Concerns with the future of the nation's helium supply

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Some citizens may be surprised to learn there is a  Federal Helium Reserve in Texas.  But the government plans to shut it down. 

WBFO & AM-970's Eileen Buckley says U.S. Senator Charles Schumer traveled to Praxiar in Tonawanda Monday, urging the government to keep the reserve open. 

"The closure of the Federal Helium Reserve could let the air out Western New York's new, growing, manufacturing balloon," said Schumer.

Senator Schumer appeared before Praxair leaders and employees.  The company provides atmospheric, high-performance coatings and supplies specialty gases -- like oxygen, nitrogen and helium.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is greeted with a round of applauds inside Praxair in Toanwanda, NY

"It turns out Praxair and other industrial gas companies have been purchasing helium from the federal government for years," said Senior vice president at Praxair, Ray Roberge.

Praxair exports helium around the world.  Helium is a by-product of natural gas -- with a number of new uses. Schumer says a law in 1996 --  to close the reserve -- never anticipated the increase use of Helium in the medical field and manufacturing.  

"Back in 1996 helium didn't have many uses.  With all this new technology helium is in great demand," said Senator Schumer.

Schumer calling on lawmakers to support the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012 to re-authorize operations of the reserve.

"The big enemy we have here is not anyone who opposes it, but it is just making the floor time at the end of the session," noted Schumer.

Schumer warns the loss of the reserve could have ramifications not only on Praixair, but Roswell Park Cancer Institute.  Medical research relies on helium. 

Roswell Park's Dr. Ronald Alberico is director of Neuroradiology.

"We do use a great deal of helium," Dr. Alberico.  The research involves different aspects of scientific investigation."

Helium  is able to cool to the lowest temperature.  Without helium, "MRI would not exsit in its current form," said Dr. Alberico. 

About half of the helium used does come from the government's reserve. 

Senator Schumer noted that the helium reserve has enough stored until the year 20-20.