The smell of chlorine could be more elusive than usual this summer.
That’s because the swimming pool industry is grappling with a chlorine shortage that has caused prices of the chemical to soar, forcing pool owners to consider alternatives.
“Pool chlorine is not easy to get, and there’s a chlorine shortage nationally that we’re all going to have to deal with,” John Swygert, CEO of Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Holdings, told investors on a recent conference call.
While chlorine demand jumped in 2020 as Americans spent more time at home with their pools due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s shortage stems largely from an incident at a plant in Westlake, Louisiana, in August.
The Bio-Lab pool-and-spa-treatment-products factory experienced a devastating fire on the morning of Aug. 27, 2020, following the landfall of Hurricane Laura. No one was injured, but the incident destroyed the facility’s roof and hobbled production, according to a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Chlorine gas was released during the incident.
Since then, the supply of chlorine products has been constrained.
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Now that the summer pool season is poised to begin, pool owners should embrace for a jump of about 60% in prices of chlorine tablets, though prices vary throughout the country, Peter Arvan, CEO of swimming pool distributor Pool Corp., said on an earnings call April 22.
“It will probably remain at (an) elevated level because I believe that the industry is going to be short for the season,” Arvan said.
Pool companies throughout the U.S. are reporting issues.
“Our standard bucket of 3-inch chlorine tablets, which are the backbone of a lot of pools right now, have pretty much become scarce,” said Thomas Race, owner of Aqua Caribbean Swimming Pool Service in Gainesville, Florida.
Pool water chemistry expert Rudy Stankowitz suggested that pool owners buy only what they need for the season. For most, that will be only a single bucket of chlorine tablets.
“I think the severity of the shortage is going to be directly related to people buying in reasonable quantities,” said Stankowitz, CEO of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants. “If you stock up, it will make it even harder to find.”
While other pool sanitizers like algaecide exist, they are more expensive and less effective than chlorine.
Many pool owners are due for a shock, having already experienced increased prices on other pool-related items during 2020.
Mia Bagby, a Gainesville pool owner, was completely unaware of the chlorine shortage.
“I hadn’t heard of it at all,” she said. “I’m going to read up on it now.”
Stankowitz said the chlorine shortage could snowball into panic buying of other pool sanitizers as chlorine supplies run low.
“You can easily find folks that can’t find chlorine tablets buying up all the bleach off the shelves in the supermarket,” he said, “and then we run into another bleach shortage because people are dumping it in their pools.”
Stankowitz said bleach is half the strength of chlorine and warned pool owners to avoid using splash-less bleach as it contains little chlorine but mixes in several dangerous additives.
Manufacturers are scrambling to fill the void left by the Bio-Lab fire, but it won’t be easy to make up the difference.
The shutdown has caused “extended downtime” at a plant owned by chemical maker Tronox Holdings, contributing to a $10 million reduction in earnings, co-CEO Jean-Francois Turgeon said Thursday on an earnings call.
Some manufacturers have been able to escape the worst of it.
Hans-Ulrich Engel, chief financial officer of global chemicals maker BASF, said Thursday on an earnings call that “chlorine plants of our competitors” are facing “ongoing supply chain distortions” but that BASF has been largely insulated from the trouble.
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