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Supply chain issues close Hawaii pools

Supply chain issues continue to affect numerous aspects of day-to-day life, and in Hawaii, it is closing down swimming pools.

A simple inability to obtain the chemicals necessary to maintain pools in compliance with the Department of Health has forced public pool closures across the state.

A recent article appearing in the Honolulu Civil Beat, a local newspaper, detailed some of the challenges faced by commercial pool owners, operators, and the people who use those swimming pools.

Laura Thielen, Director for the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, said that Hawaii is only just beginning to feel the ripple effects of the supply shortages, and she expects the impacts from the pandemic may last for years.

“We’re having difficulty getting lifeguards to the pools, the chemicals, the herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, the chlorine, the cleaning supplies — all that kind of stuff is going to be impacted, I think, over the next year or two as things sort themselves out,” Thielen said.

Most pools and spas rely on chlorine for sanitation, and although there is a chlorine manufacturer in Hawaii, its supply of raw materials is dependent on mainland shipments. And that supply is bottled up in the Los Angeles/Long Beach port, which Hawaii relies upon heavily.

This is a problem that has been going on for months, and the massive oil spill that occurred from October 1 through 3 off the Huntington Beach Coast only exacerbated matters.

And it’s not just chlorine that the city pools rely on. Hawaii’s city pools also use carbon dioxide, circulated by automatic pumps, to help regulate pH levels, and no one can get their hands on that either.

According to Margie Simonson, the bulk distribution manager for Desert Isle Beverages, the single facility that produces carbon dioxide for the entire state of Hawaii experienced a power outage that resulted in some mechanical problems, and the facility has been running at half its capacity ever since.

Furthermore, according to Gas World, an industry news website, in September, the national supply of carbon dioxide tightened due to pandemic-related shutdowns.

Meanwhile, even if it were readily available, the port gridlock has made it nearly impossible to receive carbon dioxide from mainland suppliers.

And of course, Hawaii’s swimming pools are not the only facilities that use carbon dioxide.

It is also used in a variety of other commercial applications, including to carbonate beers and sodas, and without carbon dioxide, breweries would be forced to shut down. So the priority is to provide carbon dioxide to restaurants and breweries over pools.

To regulate pH, swimming pools can use muriatic acid instead, whereas restaurants and breweries have no alternative. So the city’s pools have switched over to muriatic acid, but there have still been consequences, because it has to be added manually.

And that manual chemical input has meant that pools have been forced to change their operating hours. City custodians stop work at around 4 p.m., and because of the need to ensure that the pools water chemistry is safely maintained at all times, the pools are now closing about an hour after the employees go home for the day.

That’s meant that the swimmers who use the pools have had their pool time cut in half.

Ky Wong, coach of the Manoa Aquatics swim club, said that swimmers normally practice five days a week for nearly two hours. Now, they’re only allowed to use the pool from 4-5 p.m. three days a week. And that reduced practice time has made it difficult for his swim team to improve, Wong said, and they aren’t happy. The disruption in the supply chain is truly showing how intricately interconnected everything really is.

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