Chlorine shortage could make it harder to keep pools sanitized this summer

Hurricane Laura caused a fire last August that destroyed one of the nation’s largest makers of trichlor tablets.
Gerson Reyes of Master Touch Pools cleans and adds chlorine to a pool in Parkland on Friday, April 23, 2021. Pool services and homeowners are facing a looming shortage of swimming pool chlorine.
Gerson Reyes of Master Touch Pools cleans and adds chlorine to a pool in Parkland on Friday, April 23, 2021. Pool services and homeowners are facing a looming shortage of swimming pool chlorine. [ MIKE STOCKER | South Florida ]
Published April 28, 2021|Updated April 28, 2021

Keeping your pool clean and inviting this summer could become more challenging than ever, as market forces have converged to reduce chlorine supplies and drive up prices.

And that’s not something anyone wants to contemplate at the beginning of a long sticky summer.

“It’s probably going to be in short supply this summer,” predicted Pat Allman, general manager of Tampa-based Odyssey Manufacturing, which makes more than 40 percent of liquid chlorine sold in Florida. “You’re going to go to your local pool store and they’re going to be out for a day or two. It’s not going to be all gloom and doom. You just might not shock or clean or kill all of the algae as much as you want to.”

Prices for trichlor tablets, one of the most popular and convenient ways to keep pool water sanitized, has increased dramatically since Hurricane Laura caused a fire last August that destroyed one of the nation’s largest makers of the tablets, BioLab, in the Lake Charles region of Louisiana.

The shortage destroyed a huge amount of dry chemicals used to make trichlor (short for trichloro-s-triazinetrione) tablets, as well as granular chlorine preferred by some pool owners and the quick-boosting granular product known as pool shock.

Prices for bulk containers of the trichlor tablets have doubled for pool service companies since the fire, and some have said suppliers are refusing to sell more than two buckets of tablets to any individual purchaser. Retail prices for do-it-yourselfers have increased sharply as well.

A 50-pound bucket of In The Swim-brand 3-inch stabilized chlorine tablets that sold for $109 a few years ago is currently listed at $169.99 on Amazon.

Pool service companies that use the tablets have had little choice but to increase prices for their customers.

Because the Louisiana fire happened late in the 2020 summer season, consumers and pool service providers likely had no problem finding chlorine tablets or granules during the cold season, when fewer chemicals are necessary even in warm weather states.

That should change now as pool owners in northern states begin buying chemicals to reopen their pools for summer, industry experts warn. This year, northerners have many more pools to open. They bought them in droves last summer while the pandemic kept them stuck at home.

The increased demand will make tablets harder to find in Florida’s residential communities like Coral Springs, where two-thirds of all homes have pools — the nation’s highest percentage, reported in 2015.

Tracey Eagan, owner of Allbrite Pool Supplies in Coral Springs, said her suppliers are beginning to report that they are out of large quantities — 25 pounds and more — of tablets. It isn’t a huge issue yet, she said, because she advises her customers to use tablets sparingly, like a vitamin, to supplement their normal regime of liquid chlorine, stabilizer and acid. Her company also services more than 350 pools and doesn’t use tablets, she said.

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Eagan said she hasn’t noticed any problem getting the liquid chlorine she needs, nor has she noticed prices increasing for liquid chlorine — so far. “I’m told there will be a slight increase in the future,” she said.

Unlike makers of the dry chlorine tablets, liquid chlorine is manufactured closer to regions where demand is high because transportation costs are higher for the heavier water-based product. So pool owners who use liquid chlorine don’t need to worry about a single event like a fire dramatically reducing inventory.

Still, Odyssey Manufacturing’s Allman says pool owners should expect supplies to tighten over the summer as the shortage of chlorine tablets forces users to turn to liquid chlorine.

Most liquid chlorine manufacturers, he said, have announced price increases taking effect on June 1, stemming largely from higher costs of diesel fuel. Rising diesel fuel prices have cost the company more than $1 million over the past three months, he said, and it has no choice but to pass that increase along to customers.

Allman expects Odyssey to announce a price increase ranging from 5% to 10% in June. Any supply shortage will likely occur around July and August, he said.

Another issue emerging as a threat to liquid chlorine manufacturing capacity in recent years is the gradual reduction in supplies of chlorine gas — which is used to make liquid chlorine. Manufacturers get chlorine gas as a byproduct of the process that makes sodium hydroxide. Historically about 25% of sodium hydroxide has been used by the paper industry.

But as the print media has been transitioning from paper to electronic distribution in recent years, less chlorine gas has been available to make liquid chlorine. Consumers might not have been aware of it, but that’s led to some dicey summers that caused Odyssey and other manufacturers to wonder if they’d be able to meet their customers’ demand for chlorine, Allman said.

He expects this year to be the diciest ever, but pledges to work as hard as possible to supply everyone who needs their liquid chlorine. “I’m hopeful we’ll do all of our deliveries, but we’ll barely make it,” he said. “It’s going to be tight. Any glitch or supply issue is going to cause problems.”

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