Balloons attract children and Helium filled balloons have the magic ability to delight the children. Helium balloons are fun for the young and young-at-heart! They make festive decorations or giveaways at any event carnivals, fairs, open houses, school or church events, weddings, sports events or grand openings.
Why Hydrogen should not be used to fill balloons?
Hydrogen, is a gas that is lightest of all the elements. So Hydrogen filled balloons float in the air in much the same way as Helium filled balloons There are many balloon vendors, transporting Hydrogen Gas tied to their bicycles, and they use Hydrogen Gas to make the balloons fly. The parents buy them for their children without knowing the risk associated with Hydrogen Gas. Many are not aware that Hydrogen gas can burn and could cause explosions. Hydrogen gas is dangerous, if used to fill balloons!
Hydrogen has the ability to ignite. For example, mixtures of Hydrogen and oxygen explode violently when ignited by a spark. In the presence of air or oxygen, hydrogen burns with a hot flame. Pockets of pure Hydrogen gas can collect in underground mines and cause violent explosions. Hydrogen’s ability to produce heat when united with oxygen makes it a good fuel or fuel enhancer.
The road-side vendors use Hydrogen Gas as it is very cheap. Hydrogen is abundant on Earth and hence cheaper whereas Helium is rare on earth and hence is very very expensive!
After seeing the picture in the Hindu , we received many calls for gas filled balloons. One final year student of a City’s engineering college was asking us to fill Hydrogen Gas into balloons for a college function, without being aware of its consequences. One of the event manager of the recently held ‘star nite’ organized by Coimbatore Cricket Club too called us up for ‘Hydrogen Gas filled balloons’. They all have picked up our telephone number from the advertisement published by us in the Hindu Metro Plus Edition on the 24th, Aug 2008.
Many of us are not aware of the potential dangers of filling Hydrogen gas into balloons. I happened to see the tri color balloons in the hands of poor children staying in hut-like dwellings, near the Suguna Honda show room , close to North Coimbatore Fly Over, near the park where the celebration was held. The balloons had the potential to harm them if the gas inside ignited. Here is a local tamil newspaper clipping of a cylinder being burst while filling gas into balloons, injuring several children. This is again due to Hydrogen Gas.
What is Helium?
Helium has 92% of the lifting ability of of Hydrogen. The balloons rise to high altitudes because helium is lighter than air.
Helium is a colourless, odorless and tasteless non poisonous, non-flammable, non-toxic naturally occurring and environment friendly gas, that aften used to fill balloons to make them fly. It is also called a noble gas. Though Helium is safe to use, one should not inhale helium directly from any source. Persons with asthma or breathing problems sometime inhale a mixture of Helium & Oxygen under medical supervision.
Helium is the safest gas to fill balloons to make them fly, as Helium will not burn, but hydrogen will.
Another important point to note is that unauthorized transportation and use of Hydrogen Gas could be an offence punishable under the Indian Explosives Act. One should not buy such explosive gases from unauthorized/ unliscensed distributors.
An important note regarding rules to follow in case of Mass Balloon Releases:
One must release only 100 percent latex balloons. One must also restrict the number of balloons.. All attachments must be biodegradable. All balloons must be self-tied. Last but not the least, one must “Follow the local law, if any, regarding balloon releases”.
Research has shown that after Latex balloons are launched, they often rise to an altitude of about five miles where they begin to freeze in the -50 degree Fahrenheit cold. In addition, the strong differential between the gas pressure inside the balloon and the near vacuum outside the balloon at that altitude causes the balloons to expand to the point were they eventually burst. However, because the Latex is frozen, the bursting balloon tears into shreds (the exact scientific term is called “brittle fracture”). These tiny pieces then scatter over a wide area as they fall back on Earth, where they naturally begin to decay. Note: Only 100% rubber latex balloons are bio-degradable.
Latex is biodegradable and will decompose as fast as an oak leaf in the back yard given identical conditions. The degradation process begins almost immediately after inflated balloons are exposed to the air. This can be seen by the oxidation –the “frosting” that begins to coat Latex balloons after they have been inflated for a while. Exposure to elevated temperatures and sunlight quickens this process.