A Conversation for Helium balloons, and the effects of helium on your voice

A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 21

Stuart

Hi Tango,

See you space for a continuation of this conversation. Its getting to far away from the original.

Regards

Stuart


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 22

Martin Harper

*merrily skips backlog*

> "For instance, your living room ceiling does a nice job of stopping the helium balloon from floating higher. But how does IT do this...?"

By getting in the way! I think you need to replace the 'IT' by 'helium' to make things clearer.

> "The molecular weight of dry air at 0ÂșC is about 28.964"

Boring! smiley - winkeye Just tell me that the speed of sound is three times higher in helium than normal air, and this makes the voice higher - that's all I need to know. Three decimal places of accuracy just ain't interesting...

Anywho, good entry - nice stuff smiley - smiley


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 23

~*SQUIGGLES*~

some people like the numbers, yeah it would be simpler to say that, but I think that is too simple. I like exact numbers numbers. hehe! they make you sound smarter smiley - tongueout


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 24

Monsignore Pizzafunghi Bosselese

smiley - laugh

This is a lovely article and I wonder that it's still languishing around here

Anyway, there's a slight contradiction: halfway down it says "It's all a matter of density..." and at the bottom you talk about molecular weight. And it *is* weight that makes the difference smiley - smiley


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 25

Gnomon - time to move on

Your entry says that "when it is released it keeps on going up". This gives the impression that if helium is released from the baloon, it will go up. This is not true. If helium is released into the atmosphere, it will spread itself evenly throughout the atmosphere. It won't form a layer of helium on the top of the atmosphere. It is only if it is kept in the baloon that it goes up.

Helium baloons rising is a product of the density of helium. Sound travelling faster in helium and hence voices going up in pitch is a product of the "molecular" weight. Technically, Helium does not form molecules, being an inert material. But it is probably acceptable to say molecular weight.


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 26

Gnomon - time to move on

Another thing that might be worth mentioning is that normal stretchy rubber baloons are no good for holding helium, because they are full of tiny holes. The air molecules are too big to fit through these holes but Helium with its tiny atomic size can fit through so a baloon will deflate in about a day. For a good helium baloon, you need that shiny metallic plastic which is not stretchy.


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 27

Martin Harper

> "If helium is released into the atmosphere, it will spread itself evenly throughout the atmosphere."

I don't believe you. Teathers told me the reason there is so little naturally occuring helium on earth is because, being very light, most of it has floated off into space. Of course, they could be over-simplifying, but I'm pretty sure there's a process whereby heavier gases *tend* to sink to the bottom and lighter gases *tend* to rise to the top - at least when we're talking about distances comparable to the height of the atmosphere.

And hey, the atmosphere *does* have different layers. Sure, there isn't one of pure helium, but there's the this-sphere and the that-sphere, isn't there?


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 28

Stuart

I reckon your right Lucinda. At a guess as would say that once the Helium get into the upper atmosphere, the radiation from the Sun starts a reaction. The only difference between Helium and Nitrogen is one Electron. Helium has one more than Nitrogen. The extra electron is driven off forming Hydrogen which then sinks back down to the Earth's surface. The free electron then combines with Oxygen to help form the Ozone layer which is basically three atoms of Oxygen instead of two as in the lower atmosphere or some such similar process. The opposite to the reaction that occurs with CFCs.

Hows that for a theory. Any chemists out there than can confirm my theory.

Regards

Stuart


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 29

Gnomon - time to move on

Stuart is wrong. Helium is not just Hydrogen with an extra electron. It has two protons, two neutrons and two electrons, as compared with Hydrogen's one proton and one electron.

All gases spread evenly through the atmosphere. The light ones don't rise to the top. If they did, we'd be living in either a band of pure oxygen smiley - bigeyes or pure nitrogen (I don't know which is heavier). What happens, though, is that the sun's rays at the very top of the atmosphere strike against the atoms (Helium) or molecules (everything else) and give them a "kick". Because Helium is so light (atomic weight 4), it goes flying off into space while other heavier molecules don't so easily. So the top layer of helium is continually being stripped off into space. The rest redistributes itself by expanding to fill the space available, meaning the density of helium in the atmosphere goes down slightly. Gradually over time, all the helium goes, as do the hydrogen molecules (H2).

Check this with Orcus if you don't believe me.


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 30

Ommigosh


Actually, although it sounds like good fun, a few people die each year while attempting to get a helium assisted Mickey Mouse voice. They try to inhale helium from an inflated balloon, take too much and rupture their lungs. Not a nice way to go especially when you thought you were going to have a good laugh.

Sorry to spoil the fun. But maybe you should think about putting a wee warning in the entry?

(This is the second attempt at posting this dour warning. Don't know where the first one went).


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 31

Mina

As Ommigosh says, this entry should say something about the dangers of inhaling helium as well, but rather than being mentioned as a warning, it should really be a part of the entry.

I had a quick look around the internet, and one school said it was the equivalent of drug abuse! While I don't agree with that, the dangers should be mentioned, so that an informed decision can be made by anyone buying Postman Pat shaped floating balloons. smiley - smiley


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 32

SmartGamer, Keeper of That Which Breaks Down Easily [(11*5)-(4*2+5)=42] (Scout)

Ditto. I desparately want to Recommend this, but without that warning, I cannot do so. Another danger of helium is that the human body needs oxygen- helium in the lungs cannot be used by the human body, so for the duration you have helium in your lungs, you are essentially holding your breath.

Today's my Scouting deadline, so after- and only after- you add the disclaimer, I'll tell the other Scouts about this.

--SmartGamer (Scout)


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 33

Monsignore Pizzafunghi Bosselese

hee hee, I tell you there are *other* Scouts waiting at the ready smiley - bigeyes


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 34

~*SQUIGGLES*~

well...that doesn't sound like much fun. Yes, This really does need a warning...


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 35

Mina

As I said before, rather than a warning which has no meaning, the dangers of inhaling helium should be written into the entry.


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 36

Martin Harper

I am not a doctor. This is not medical advice.

--

It seems that the dangers of helium inhalation from balloons have been overstated in this thread. Don't use a commercial helium balloon filling system, because of lung rupture and gas bubbles in the blood stream, both of which can be lethal. The same goes for (eg) air pumps for tyres: it isn't specific to helium. Similarly, a helium balloon is no more dangerous than an air balloon in terms of lung rupture.

Don't take several really deep breaths of pure helium in a row. Pure helium *is* a 'simple asphyxiate' - it contains no oxygen. However, a normal breath or two isn't going to kill you. There's residual air in your lungs, after all.
Totally reckless use might conceivably cause unconsciousness, and every time you go unconscious (including anaesthetic) there's a small risk of death, plus you might hurt yourself falling over. Somewhat more likely is falling over due to dizziness.

--

I tried to search for instances of actual helium deaths. A girl called Michelle Moreno ( http://www.partyplus.com.au/helium.htm ) is supposed to have died in 1998, causing major headlines, but those headlines don't seem to have made it onto BBC news, for example, so I half-suspect scaremongering. The alleged death is mentioned in only two places online, and one of those is a cut+paste from the other one.

In 1996, a 13yo kid became unconscious and had a seizure from gas bubbles in bloood stream hitting the brain. Proof of the dangers? Not really: he used a pressurised tank, not a balloon. And he survived.

So, I'm yet to be convinced that inhaling helium *is* a genuine health risk. Anyone got any evidence, or are we all just passing on urban myths here?

-Martin


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 37

Mina

The British Compressed Gases Association are concerned - they have stated that inhalation of helium can be fatal.

While the risk is slight, there *is* a risk. BBC Safety Services have made sure that this is widely known, so that we can make sure that *all* information is presented to the public. Which is why we want it included as part of the entry, rather than as a warning.


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 38

Martin Harper

*searches for "British Compressed Gases Association helium"...*

Nope, nothing on google. You got a reference for where they say that and exactly what they say? I can't find anything from these 'safety services' people on BBCi, so it's not as widely known as it seemingly should be. Got references? Got an advisory leaflet you can stick online for us?

Let's see exactly what these people say, then we can make sure that any warnings are accurate, rather than spreading hear-say.

-Martin

--

http://www.wkyc.com/news/morelocal/euclid/020605helium.asp

> "A poison prevention specialist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital says inhaling a little helium to alter your voice is not dangerous."

http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/333/8478/334910.html?d=dmtJHNewsArchive

> "Inhaling helium for a breath or two is generally harmless. There are &reports* of brain injury and even death after inhaling helium, but these have occurred after prolonged inhalation or after inhaling the helium from a pressurized tank "
-Robert H. Shmerling, MD - Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 39

Mina

It's an internal resource, so you won't be able to find it on the external website.

Edited Guide Entries have to be balanced, which means including adverse effects.


A817445 - the wonders of Helium balloons

Post 40

Martin Harper

So, could you make that internal resource available for us? Quote it here, stick it in a guide entry, or otherwise allow us to read it. Thanks! smiley - smiley

> "Edited Guide Entries have to be balanced, which means including adverse effects."

In general, yes. For example, the entry on aerosol deodorants ( A2935 ) should include the dangers of setting light to them. It doesn't, but it should. However, when entries talk about the dangers of something, they should:

A) be in proportion to the danger posed.
B) be as accurate as possible
C) avoid scaremongering and over-emphasising very small risks

Telling people that inhaling helium from a balloon will rupture their lungs is, as far as I can tell, simply untrue. A cylinder of compressed helium yes, a balloon no. Also, there's no reason to insist on a warning being integrated into the entry: A583580 doesn't, A812783 doesn't, etc. Sometimes I think a seperate warning, with an appropriate heading, makes more sense. Sometimes it doesn't.

-Martin


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