When inhaled, helium displaces the oxygen in our lungs. While inhaling helium from a balloon is generally non-threatening, it can be dangerous if too much is inhaled. Because you're losing oxygen with each inhalation, you may even begin to feel lightheaded. If you feel any lightheadedness or dizziness, stop immediately. People have fainted from this activity, which is why we strongly advise against it.
Unfortunately, there have been helium-related deaths when inhaled from a pressurized tank. Never inhale helium directly from the cylinder's valve or balloon inflator as the pressure can cause your lungs to burst and may cause death. In this case, it's the pressure that's dangerous.
The Safest Route: Transporting HeliumDespite its reputation for being a lighthearted and fun commodity, helium and the cylinders they're transported in should always be treated with care and respect. While helium is not a flammable gas, it is a gas under pressure. To safely transport helium cylinders, it's best to transport them with the valve removed and a cap on the cylinder. Attempting to transport a cylinder with a valve attached can be very dangerous if the cylinder somehow falls causing the valve to snap. Because of the pressure, the cylinder, which is pure steel in most cases, will become a projectile and can wreak havoc on anyone or anything in its path.
When transporting a helium cylinder in a vehicle, always choose a truck. Carrying a cylinder in a separate compartment from the driver and potential passengers is the safest mode of transportation as it greatly decreases the amount and degree of injury to all passengers. If involved in a collision, the last thing you want is a large piece of steel rolling around the inside of the cab with passengers.
Keeping it Safe: Storing HeliumIf you use helium on a regular basis and always have it on hand, make sure the helium tanks are in a safe, guarded location where they cannot be easily knocked over. As mentioned earlier with regards to pressure, a knocked over tank can cause property damage and/or injury if the valve should snap. Always keep the tank out of high traffic areas. Cylinder stands are a great investment as they provide stability and decrease the chance and ease of a tank falling over.
For more safety tips, see our Helium page.
Written by: Miriam E. Medellin