As temperatures settle into the triple digits, many Scottsdale residents are preparing for a summer spent cooling off by the pool.
But keeping those pools clean may prove costlier than in years past due to a fire at a Louisiana chlorine plant last August.
That fire during Hurricane Laura heavily damaged a plant owned by Bio Lab, the nation’s largest manufacturer of chlorine tablets – the most convenient, most popular and, at one time anyway, the cheapest means of sanitizing pools.
The fire has triggered a shortage-induced panic as well as high anxiety over soaring prices for a bucket of tablets. In some cases, for example, prices rose from $85 for a 50-pound bucket to $200 and more increases are predicted.
Chlorine tablets are not the only product available to pool owners, though.
Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho uses liquid chlorine, a product that has not been impacted by the shortage, said Kevin Stanaway, the hotel’s assistant chief engineer.
“We keep our supplies well stocked knowing how important it is for our guests to be able to enjoy some swimming and poolside lounging while at the hotel,” he said.
Rod Yacovetta, owner of American Swimming Pools Co. in Scottsdale, said liquid chlorine manufactures are running production lines 24/7 to meet demand.
But many homeowners still prefer the tablets for a few key reasons, Yacovetta said.
“Chlorine and the sun thing don’t play nice together,” he said. “They’re constantly fighting; it’s just a big battle.”
Unlike liquid chlorine, tri-chlor tablets are treated to resist degradation in the sunlight.
Yacovetta said the stabilizer added to the tablets acts as a “suntan lotion” for the chlorine tablet.
“Now, the liquid chlorine does it’s job, but in July we love the tabs in the pool, because, for lack of better term, they just melt slower, they dissolve slower,” he said.
Some larger users of those chlorine tablets have stockpiled supplies.
“When the resort was built, due to the size of pools we knew that we would need to plan ahead and order chlorine in bulk,” said Thomas Marsteen, the director of engineering at the Mountain Shadows Resort.
“Our current stock is easily sufficient to last us the coming months,” he added.
Still, Marsteen said that type of stockpiling is not necessary for residential users.
“If you have a pool at home, don’t overstock on chlorine,” he said. “A six-month supply is plenty, and buying only that amount will ensure that there is enough for everyone to enjoy their pool this summer.”
At this point, homeowners would have a difficult time overstocking chlorine tablets even if they wanted to.
Yacovetta said his company began stockpiling tablets around Christmas when he saw the shortage coming, but suppliers are now limiting how much individuals and businesses can buy.
“It’s not like you can stockpile as much as you want,” he said. “They’ve been limiting us to it, and then obviously for the consumer right now I’m being told that Costco and Home Depot and Lowe’s aren’t even carrying tabs at the moment.”
The shortage likely will not end until some point in 2022.
Bio Lab last month won approval from the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry on its request for a $50 million incentive package to rebuild and expand the plant.
It said its own investment, combined with the state incentives, will pump $142 million into a region where households earn an average annual income of $23,000 – roughly $5,000 below the national average.
Bio Lab projects a May 2022 completion of the project, although it is unclear whether investigations by both the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration will prolong that timeline.
BioLab President Jon Viner last month issued a statement that said:
“We understand the importance of pools in people’s lives, especially as we approach summer. We are still producing chlorine tablets and will be supplying them to our retailers throughout the season. Unfortunately, there may be times when retailers do not have adequate supply on the shelves.”
Even when the new factory is online, there’s no guarantee prices will return to their pre-2020 levels, though.
“Once (prices) get to a certain level, for some reason, they just never go down, but hopefully they’ll stabilize (after the plant opens),” Yacovetta said.
Unlike most residential pool owners, the City of Scottsdale is not impacted by the chlorine tablet shortage.
That’s because last year the city finished a $4.4-million water treatment conversion project to at all city pools.
The pools now have automated chlorinator systems on site that use rock salt and electricity to produce their own chlorine.
“This technology is also coupled with the use of ozone, hyper dissolve oxygen, super fine filtration, ultraviolet light, and pH control,” city spokeswoman Ann Porter said.
According to city budget documents, it undertook the multimillion-dollar conversion to comply with guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards that regulates large-scale storage of potentially dangerous chemicals like chlorine.
With the new systems in place, the city will no longer need to store chlorine liquid or tablets on site.
Homeowners, too, can install salt-water chlorine generator systems, but so far most of the customers Yacovetta works with have not made the switch.
“We take care of close to 300 pools and I would say we’re at 10 percent,” he said.
One barrier could be the upfront cost as a new salt chlorinator system can cost $1,000 to $2,000.
Yacovetta said pools with those systems have several benefits for homeowners, including being easier on the skin and cheaper to maintain.
They also reduce reliance on chlorine tabs, though Yacovetta noted occasional liquid or tablet treatments may still be needed during the winter months.
“It’s a win-win,” he said. “It’s better water; it’s more natural and it has a different feel to it, and you’ll obviously never run into this problem that you need more tabs.”