Chlorine Tablet Shortage
Examining the Current Global Shortage of Chlorine Tablets
Looking strictly at the numbers, the U.S. economy continued its robust recovery from the pandemic in July. GDP grew at a 6.5% annual rate in the second quarter and last month’s gain recently pushed the size of the economy above its pre-pandemic level, a milestone that underscores the speed of the recovery that began in May 2020.
Despite healthy economic indicators from the Commerce Department, there remain several key structural issues that stand to hamper the ongoing U.S. recovery. One is the spread of the Delta variant. Another is a fall in inventories and private business investment spurred by supply and labor shortages. While each issue presents its own set of unique challenges, the topic of this article is the impact of supply shortages for key manufactured products in the U.S. economy - in particular, chlorine tablets.
What are Chlorine Tablets and How are They Used
Chlorine tablets are a widely used water disinfectant which kills most viruses and bacteria in water.1 Chlorine is used as a disinfectant to kill any germs and diseases that might be floating around in a pool, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2 They have long been the standard for backyard pool disinfecting, which are placed into floaters or compartments in filtration systems, and dissolve gradually into the water, keeping backyard pools chlorinated at a stable level for prolonged periods. At the moment, the country as a whole is facing a national, record-setting chlorine shortage caused by interruptions in the supply chain.3
Last summer, sales for swimming pools sharply rose as people all over the U.S. stayed home during the pandemic, leading to increased demand for prepared chlorine products. The simultaneous increase in demand and lack of supply is hitting the swimming pool industry particularly hard. In 2020, about 96,000 pools were built in the U.S., representing a 23% increase over the previous year.4 The overall swimming pool construction market is expected to grow ~4% per year, according to Allied Market Research.5
Implications of the Chlorine Tablet Shortage
About two-thirds of the 5.2 million residential in-ground pools in the U.S. use traditional chlorine systems (i.e. trichlor chlorine tablets), and that means the problem will affect the vast majority of pool owners.6 The current tablet shortage has significant public health implications as chlorine tablets are used to sanitize pools and keep them free of algae and bacteria. Inadequately sanitized water can become turbid, making it a safety risk and a leading cause of drownings.7
The following three consequences of the current chlorine tablet shortage are already reverberating throughout the market:
Wholesale suppliers are responding to the shortage by passing along price increases to retailers, who in turn, pass along higher costs to consumers. In some parts of the country, pool supply stores have imposed quantity restrictions. In other areas, prices for chlorine tablets have already doubled from last year.8
According to financial services company IHS Markit, chlorine prices increased on average 70% this summer, compared to 2020.9 Furthermore, because of the shortage, distributors are telling shops they can only order the same amount of chlorine tablets as last year.
As pool owners start realizing the price impact of the current shortage as noted above, many are deciding to hoard chlorine tablets, thereby further exacerbating the lack of chlorine tablet availability. Panic purchasing by many this summer has resulted in some stocking up with a few years worth of tablets that ultimately shorts someone else.
Compounding this issue is the fact that the product has a limited shelf life, especially if they’re not stored in a climate-controlled environment. If stored in heat or extreme cold, the tablets lose their effectiveness after a few months.
- Switch to Less Reliable Alternatives
The shortage of chlorine tablets has led to an increase in alternative products for sanitizing the pool. Many pool service companies have opted to switch to liquid chlorine during the shortage. With many local suppliers being sold out of chlorine tablets, there was little alternative for some.
While chlorine tablets have a number of advantages, including their ease of use and long shelf life, liquid chlorine does provide an adequate alternative to chlorine tablets since both sanitize the water and prevent the growth of algae and bacteria. However, one of the major downsides of liquid chlorine is that you need a lot of it. 1 gallon is equivalent to two chlorine tablets because the concentration of chlorine in the formula is typically between 10%-12% while the rest is made up of water and salt.10 This means pool owners will either have to buy a massive quantity to get through the season or stock up at a pool supply store every couple of weeks.
Another disadvantage of liquid chlorine is that it has a short shelf life, lasting just a couple of weeks before it loses potency. Finally, liquid chlorine might affect a pool’s pH levels, which means pool owners need to be more vigilant about monitoring them throughout the season.
How Different Manufacturing Regions of the World are Responding to the Tablet Shortage
The chlorine tablet shortage is impacting global supply chains, leading U.S. buyers to consider establishing new supplier relationships.
- North American Manufacturers
In the U.S., there are three main chlorine manufacturers. In August 2020, a chlorine plant outside of Lake Charles, Louisiana, burned down in the wake of Hurricane Laura, putting a huge dent in the production of chlorine tablets and leaving just two domestic manufacturers of chlorine tablets: Occidental Petroleum and Clearon Corp. The chemical fire at the BioLab facility in Louisiana was particularly ruinous for the domestic chlorine tablet supply chain since this facility was responsible for producing the bulk of trichlor chlorine tablets that are most commonly found in residential swimming pools. 835 tons of the tablets were stored at the plant at the time of the fire.
The BioLab facility is targeting a Spring 2022 reopening date following the completion of a $170 million reconstruction, but that leaves a massive shortage of production capacity in the U.S. in the meantime. Even if the other two manufacturers were to increase production, they would have to ramp up roughly 50% each to fill in the gap during the tablet shortage.
- Chinese Manufacturers
China is also currently undergoing its own manufacturing problems relating to supply chain bottlenecks and rapid producer price increases. Chinese imports of tablets are complicated by freight issues fouling up other parts of the global supply chain, in addition to U.S. tariffs that make domestic importing of Chinese tablets more expensive.
- Latin American Manufacturers
Even before the pandemic, U.S. buyers have been moving their manufacturing operations closer to home (i.e. near shoring), making them less reliant on China for their products wholesale needs. A 2020 survey of 260 global firms by Gartner found that 33% of companies had already moved factories out of China or were planning to do so by 2023.11
Latin America is well positioned to take advantage of this global trend and has been moving for years in a business-friendly direction, helping attract foreign capital by reducing corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and improving its outdated ports and internet connections. Latin America could make an extra $70 billion a year in exports if it managed to replace 10% of China’s shipments to the U.S., according to the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank.12 Given Latin America’s growing influence in textiles and natural resource export markets, this is a realistic goal and a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the region to finally fulfill its potential with the integration of global value chains.
The crunch in the chlorine tablet market is a microcosm of the broader vulnerabilities in global supply chains that support everything from personal protective gear to textile manufacturing. A range of disruptions experienced over the past year and a half -- from a global pandemic that forced countries into unprecedented lockdowns to shortages of workers, empty cargo space, a ship lodged in the Suez Canal, and hurricanes and fires that shuttered factories -- has made U.S. buyers rethink what they value in their supplier relationships. While price has always remained dominant in Western supply chain considerations, we at Exporta are seeing more and more U.S. buyers increasingly turn to Latin American manufacturers for their wholesale supply needs given the region’s reliability, convenience, high quality, and transportation speed.
Please reach out if you’d like to learn more about our network of trusted Latin American suppliers. We are excited to support the growth and diversification of global supply chains, while at the same time make meaningful improvements to limit the types of global supply shortages we currently seeing with chlorine tablets.
About Exporta Technologies
Exporta Wholesale is the largest marketplace connecting suppliers in Latin America with buyers in North America. Today, we have a network of over 5,000 Latin American suppliers serving a variety of consumer goods and product categories in the United States.
Exporta’s marketplace offers buyers a full service experience in the origination, sourcing and managing of products. The platform was founded on the idea that curation and service are the most important elements in the buyer’s journey. Exporta’s marketplace is building technology that addresses the pains of sourcing products internationally at attractive prices.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Goldman Saches Report on Chlorine Shortage