The U.S. just sold its helium stockpile. Here’s why the medical world is worried.

Written by Robert J. Matthews

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Up to 30% of the nation's helium comes from the Federal Helium Reserve, a large underground store near Amarillo, Texas, which the government sold on Thursday.

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The successful bidder, Messer, the industrial gas business, will get 425 miles of pipes in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma and 1 billion cubic feet of the only element on Earth cold enough to create an MRI machine. 

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As the facility transfers from public to private ownership, regulatory and logistical concerns threaten a temporary suspension.

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Soumi Saha, senior vice president of government affairs at Premier Inc., which contracts with helium suppliers for 4,400 US hospitals.

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We worry about this shortage. In health care, MRI scanners are the biggest concern.”

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40 million MRI scans are performed annually in the US to diagnose cancer, brain and spinal cord injuries, strokes, and heart disorders.

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 Superconductive magnet-powered imaging equipment give doctors crisp, high-resolution images of body parts X-rays and CT scans can't view. 

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Saha warned that selling the government's nonrenewable element stockpile could worsen a supply shortage. 

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