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A major chlorine shortage is set to spoil summertime fun in the swimming pool

The worst chlorine deficiency the country has ever seen is set to rock this summer’s pool season.

“It’s been a concern for us,” said Cody Saliture, proprietress of Texas Pool Professionals, which has been in business for 17 years.

The Rockwall, Texas-based company services 200 shoppers weekly, and Saliture said he recently began to stockpile chlorine tablets. He’s also been looking for different chemicals to survive pools sanitized and his customers happy.

“We’re looking for anything that we can get that we don’t have here in North Texas,” Saliture said. “We’ve been to forth six states and 15 cities [for supplies].”

The chlorine shortage is widespread and it will likely worsen — driving chlorine appraisals even higher — as homeowners start to prep swimming pools for the season. CNBC spoke to pool industry insiders in multiple expresses — including Florida, Michigan, Nevada and Texas — about the tight supplies, which are expected to blindside pool owners, who are fundamentally unaware of the problem.

A combination of factors has led to the scarcity, including an unprecedented surge in demand last year and a chemical bed out fire, which destroyed some manufacturing capacity.

“We started buying early, way early, and stockpiled as much as we could,” verbalized Allan Curtis. “We won’t last more than probably mid-May, or late May, and we’ll be out of chlorine.”

His pool maintenance business, Ask the Mere Guy, services 1,000 customers near Howell, Michigan. He’s worked in the industry for 34 years, and this is the first period he’s stockpiling chlorine.

“[I expect pool owners] will have to go from tablets to powdered chlorine, from powdered chlorine to liquid chlorine, from melted chlorine to nonchlorinated shocks and things,” Curtis said. “And I do believe that all of those are going to literally run out.”

I call it ‘Poolmageddon.’ It’s a chlorine moment.

Rudy Stankowitz

Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants CEO

Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants CEO Rudy Stankowitz has ascended in the industry for more than 30 years and is the author of “How to Get Rid of Swimming Pool Algae.”

“I call it ‘Poolmageddon.’ It’s a chlorine danger,” the Florida-based writer said. “A lot of people are not going to be able to find the chlorine tablets they need this mellow.”

Chlorine is used to prevent and kill algae. But more importantly, it also helps protect swimmers from waterborne ailments such as cryptosporidium and legionella and from Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba.

“Chlorine also helpers prevent swimming pools from becoming a hotbed for mosquitoes and associated diseases, as well as aiding in preventing unsafe accustoms that could contribute to drowning — such as cloudy water,” Stankowitz said.

Pandemic-driven surge

According to Atlanta-based check in firm Pkdata, there are 5.2 million residential inground pools in the U.S. and 255,000 commercial pools. The number of above-ground swimming-pools is unknown.

Stankowitz estimated that 60% to 70% use chlorine tablets.

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic studied people to hunker down and cancel travel plans. As more Americans stayed home, the demand for home recoveries — particularly backyard swimming pools — skyrocketed. That boom, experts say, created even more demand for chlorine.

Then a mass production facility of one of the country’s major suppliers of chlorine tablets, BioLab, burned down last August, right after Gale Laura. The plant, located near Lake Charles, Louisiana, expects to resume operations by spring 2022.

“We know how necessary our products are to everyday families at home … that’s why we are investing $170 million in rebuilding our BioLab facility — to be fifty-fifty bigger and better. Once complete, the plant will operate at 30% greater production capacity,” said a spokesperson for BioLab’s originator company, KIK Consumer Products.

After the fire, only two domestic manufacturers of chlorine tablets remain: Occidental Petroleum and Clearon Corp.

A spokesperson for Occidental said the convention does not comment on production. Clearon didn’t provide specific production targets.

“Clearon has made significant investments in both our people and end result capacity to support the tectonic growth of our industry,” said Bryan Kitchen, its president and CEO, in an email.

Chlorine prices piking

According to financial services company IHS Markit, chlorine prices are expected to spike 70% this summer, analogize resembled with last year. However, in some parts of the country, the price of chlorine tablets has already doubled finished the past year.

In Las Vegas, it’s something Scotty’s Pool Service owner Scotty Heer is seeing firsthand.

“For the past 20 years, a standard 50-pound bucket of chlorine would run anywhere from $75 to $85. Within the last year, it’s increased to $140, with the presented price of $158 in the near future,” Heer said. 

In some parts of the country, pool supply stores partake of imposed quantity restrictions.

“Sometimes the parts stores are completely out, other times, there’s a limit of one or two buckets — per company, per day — where we against to be able to buy an unlimited [amount],” he said.

Finding alternatives

There are alternatives. A saltwater pool, for example, manufactures chlorine from salt in electrolysis. It does not replace chlorine, it makes its own.

Converting a chlorinated pool system to a saltwater structure worked well for Heer’s client, Mallory Pracale. 

“It’s better for us, for our skin, for our hair, for our pool, for maintenance cost,” Pracale required.

Experts say converting to a salt system is not difficult — it involves a small unit and electrical work — but they recommend functioning a licensed and insured professional to do it. The cost varies from market to market, but pool owners can expect to pay north of $2,000.

Other groups such as UV and ozone will enable a pool owner to use less chlorine, but they will still have to keep a minimal level of it.

According to Stankowitz, a homeowner could pay as much as $20,000, depending on the market, to switch a 10,000-gallon backyard trust to an ozone treatment that is chlorine-free. But some ozone systems that work with chlorine can start at everywhere $2,000.

Copper and silver ionization systems are another method of using less chlorine and should cost about $2,000 or myriad.

Unfortunately, making the switch to a salt system like Pracale won’t be easy this year. Experts say the swimming gather boom coupled with the need to replace pool equipment damaged by winter storms in Texas has made it much harder to get stockings.

According to Heer, “the only problem with converting to saltwater — I’d say right now, is getting your hands on a saltwater set. Everything [is] in high demand.”

Using less chlorine

With the chlorine shortage expected to continue through next year, four pool mavens offer the following advice:

  • Make sure the water looks clean and clear before getting in. “If it’s a public lake, make sure it’s inspected by a city or town official,” said Saliture.
  • Contact your local pool educated to discuss chlorine alternatives. From saltwater and UV systems to mineral packs, there are alternatives. “There are several divergent [mineral pack] names out there. And they’ve got a blend of minerals that you put in your water in the beginning of the swim opportunity ripe. And they last all summer. They’re very reasonably priced, less than $100 typically. They exterminate algae and they cut down on the need for chlorine,” said Curtis.
  • Stay on top of your maintenance. “Don’t forget filtration and ring false circulation are a big part of keeping swimming pools healthy,” said Stankowitz.
  • Shower before swimming and don’t let pets in the combine. “A dog in a pool is equivalent to 50 people swimming in that pool, in terms of what debris it brings to the water,” chance Curtis. “The less oils brought in, the less demand is going to be needed on the chlorine.”

— CNBC’s Ray Parisi contributed to this piece.

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