Congress Acts to Address Helium Shortage

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Representatives Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have introduced the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527) in Congress to address the current global helium shortage. The bipartisan bill prevents the Federal Helium Reserve — a supply of helium in an underground gas field in Amarillo, Tex — from closing this year and ensures a fair price for helium sold by the Bureau of Land Management.

The U.S. supply of helium represents 30% of the global supply. Because of the Helium Privatization Act signed in 1996, the reserve must be sold off by 2015. The law was designed to exhaust domestic supply and recoup costs for initially setting up the facility ever since the United States began stockpiling helium in 1925.

A restricted global helium supply has adverse effects on many industries, including medical imaging. Helium is an essential component in the creation and operation of MRI machines, which rely on liquid helium to maintain normal operating temperatures.

The Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) applauded the introduction of H.R. 527.

“Failure to preserve our domestic helium supply will have reverberating effects on medical imaging manufacturers as well as the entire health care industry, as manufacturing facilities will have no choice but to slow or shut down production and physicians will be forced to turn away patients due to the shortage,” said Gail Rodriguez, executive director of MITA, in a statement. “Congress needs to pass legislation to prevent the premature closure of this reserve, and this bill is an important step forward in finding a solution.”

Last fall, MITA sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to delay introduce legislation to ease the helium shortage.