Leading pool chemical in short supply due to August 27 fire at Louisiana Bio-Lab plant
Pool service companies are feeling the repercussions of the massive chemical fire at the Bio-Lab facility in Westlake, Louisiana.
In the wake of Hurricane Laura, the trichlor manufacturing plant caught fire on August 27, 2020, and continued to burn for three days, destroying an untold amount of the dry chemical relied on by the industry.
Now, according to Terry Arko, Hasa’s Product Training and Content Manager, there is concern in the service trade.
“Distributors are rationing purchases to prevent hoarding. We are hearing stories that prices have gone up from around $80 a bucket (50#) to around $110 and as high as $150,” Arko said.
Demand for trichlor and other pool chemicals and equipment was already unprecedented this year, as stay-at-home orders resulted in millions of Americans relying on their backyard pools as their sole means of entertainment.
“Domestic manufacturers barely kept up this summer and distributors complained about long lead times, but Hurricane Laura took out one of the three domestic producers. The destruction of Bio-Lab’s Lake Charles plant reduced the supply by a third,” Arko said.
According to Robert Rankin, Vice President of Pool Corp, contributing to the trichlor shortage is the fact that nearly all of the product currently sold in the U.S. is now domestic, although that was not always the case.
“Since heavy tariffs were levied against China, there is very little of that product being brought into the U.S. (They would have been the largest exporter at that time). Japan still moves product into the U.S. but it is very small in the big picture. Mexico also sends product into the U.S. and that could increase but they are very limited by capacity,” Rankin said.
With the destruction of one of the three main domestic producers of trichlor (the others being Occidental Chemical Corporation and Clearon Corporation) it appears that domestic supply cannot possibly meet demand.
Furthermore, according to Arko, the U.S. inventory of China’s pre-tariff trichlor has been exhausted.
Rankin says that it is still too early to know the full impact of the Bio-Lab’s fire in Louisiana.
“There is no doubt it is going to be a very tough 2021 as it pertains to dry chemical. That plant was very important to our industry and depending on how long it takes to rebuild and replenish, will determine just how difficult this gets for our industry. Millions of pounds have just been removed from our industry and there is simply no way to replace all of the product that was moved through that facility,” Rankin said.
While other vendors are trying to step up and fulfill the immediate need, they simply don’t have the capacity.
The only positive is that in most regions of the country, the swimming season is coming to a close, and the market for trichlor outside of the Sunbelt will decrease, perhaps allowing enough dry chemical for those pools that remain open yearlong.
Rankin says that only time will tell how badthedamagewas,orhowfastBio-Labis able to rebuild and begin producing again.
“If it truly is as bad as reported, or worse, 2021 will be long remembered as the year the Industry survived without dry chemicals.”