Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 14:42:27 -0500 (EST) From: Larry Moss <email@example.com> To: Balloon Decorator List <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: Helium Deaths I was trying to decide if it was worth jumping into this little debate, especially since it seems likely that a large number of you will disagree with me. I finally decided I'd post my opinion but more because the thing that I see as hurting our industry more than a silly commercial is the spread of misinformation. Opinion first - It's a commercial. I thought it was a really cute commercial. I didn't watch it last night since I find that too much time during the superbowl is devoted to football. (Now I know I'm really gonna get in trouble.) I did just watch it on msnbc.com. As a friend said to me earlier, "no one is going to learn bad behavior like sucking on a helium balloon any more than anyone will learn to catch a road runner by dropping anvils off of cliffs." Dropping anvils great distances seems to me like it would be far more dangerous. (Especially since we all know that anvils fall slower than everything else and are guaranteed to land on top of you if you fall off the cliff at the same time.) Coyotes capable of dropping anvils and munchkins living in the land of Oz are all fictional characters. It was done in the name of fun and I think it should be taken that way. Now on to the serious stuff. One person posted asking for the hows and whys related to the dangers of helium. Personally, I think this is a lot more meaningful than calling or writing to Fedex to complain. I know many of you will disagree with my opinion above. I'm more than ok with that. I do want to keep facts straight. (Please do your own independent research. I'm reporting only what I know.) We have some information about helium in the health chapter of the Guide. There's a link to an article from the New York Times about sucking on helium. That link seems to be stale now, but there is other information on health in that chapter on balloon related health issues. Specific stuff from this discussion: > I too discourage my clients and tell them that it is like a drug in that > it kills brain cells. Where can we get more correct information? Maybe > someone could write up a pamphlet about it? Well, yeah, if you die of asphyxiation all of your brain cells will die. Helium is not a drug and does not behave like a drug. In fact, you breath helium every day. And that's not because you're in the balloon industry. Helium is in the atmosphere. It's also added to the air mixture used by scuba divers and (I believe) astronauts. (If I'm wrong about the astronauts, I'm sure our resident rocket scientist will correct me.:-) The danger comes from inhaling so much that your body is deprived of oxygen. If there is oxygen in the tank (typical of a "balloon gas" mix), you'll probably get enough oxygen to continue breathing. In most cases if you do deprive your body of oxygen for a bit, you'll pass out, the helium will escape from your body (unless you also inhaled hi-float) and within seconds you'll be breathing normally. When you wake up after that, the only medical problem you'll have is a bump on the head from your fall. I wouldn't recommend sucking helium. I, personally, wouldn't want to take the chance of not getting enough oxygen into my lungs. But medically speaking, I think some of you are overreacting. > I just heard on the news this morning that the two people who died in a > blimp while repairing was caused by the release of helium into the chamber > they were in. I have heard of one other person dying because he inhaled > too much helium. This was a case where the quantity of helium, relative to the lack of oxygen did the trick. Two substances can't take up the same space at the same time. It wasn't the helium, per se, that killed them. It was the lack of oxygen because it was displaced by massive amounts of helium. Other dangers come from putting your mouth on the tank's valve. If you just open the tank, the pressure rushing out at you will cause quite a bit of damage. You might also have trouble with helium if you use it to inflate 45 weather balloons in order to go for a short flight like Larry Waters did in 1992. Now that we've established that there are more dangerous things you can put in your mouth than helium, I'm going to go back to packing the props for my show tonight. I misplaced my fire-eating wands. Larry Moss BalloonHQ.com P.S. For anyone that's wondering, the reason helium changes the sound of your voice is that it's less dense than air. Sound waves travel faster through helium than through air, resulting in a higher pitch as it leaves your mouth.