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COVID, plant fire cause shortage of chlorine tablets for backyard pools – NJ.com

Tim McGrogan, an owner of the Pool Depot installation and supply business in Pompton Plains, said he has everything but chlorine tablets thanks to a shortage driven by high demand and reduced production.Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for
It was a seasonably warm evening that hinted at the summer to come, and Artie Verderamo paused over the limpid water of the backyard pool he was tending in Glen Ridge.
Verderamo, a technician with Competition Pools in nearby Nutley, said his client still had some chlorine tablets left over from last summer, so he wasn’t worried just yet about a nationwide shortage of tablets that’s driven up prices or put them out of stock entirely.
“He’s going to be (worried) in a couple months, when he runs out of the stuff he has,” Verderamo said. “And then we’re stuck with the Chinese granular chlorine, which you’ve got to mix in a bucket, dump some in, mix in bucket, dump some in. And it dissipates after two days. It’s supposed to last a week.”
“We can’t get any of the good stuff right now at all,” he said.
By “the good stuff,” Verderamo means the convenient chlorine tablets that have long been 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.
The tablets are in short supply these days due to a combination of factors, including a spike in demand for backyard pools and supplies driven by coronavirus-related restrictions and apprehensions about travel or other types of recreation.
“Swimming in your pool is the closest thing to going on vacation,” said Tim McGrogan, a part owner of the Pool Depot, a family business in the Pompton Plains section of Pequannock Township that installs and supplies pools in Northern New Jersey.
McGrogan estimated that a quarter of the single-family homes in the Pool Depot’s corner of Morris County had pools. Those pool owners and others now face 20-25% price hike for tablets at his store and other outlets, if they can find them. McGrogan said Friday that he had been out of chlorine tablets for a week, and he doesn’t know when he’ll have more.
“Right now we’re being told by our distributor that they don’t honestly know when they’ll be able to get chlorine into our store,” said McGrogan.
Beyond the spike in demand, supply was disrupted by a fire last August at a plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, that had bee one of the nation’s leading producers of chlorine tablets. The plant was operated by Canadian chemical conglomerate KIK, whose products include Clorox Pool Chlorinating Tablets, Chlorine Stabilizer, BioGuard Smart Shock blue algae-killing crystals, and SilkGuard Complete, which combines a chlorinating agent, water softener and algae killer.
A KIK spokesman issued a statement saying the company had a Spring 2022 target date for completion of a $170 million reconstruction and expansion of the plant, which is operated by its Biolab subsidiary.
“We know how essential our products are to everyday families at home, who now more than ever, are seeking to ensure the sanitation of their pools,” the statement read. “Once complete, the plant will operate at 30% greater production capacity, which means we will be well-positioned to rapidly address the shortage of pool disinfecting agents in North America.”
Last week, Biolab issued advice to pool owners on how to substitute still-readily available liquid chlorine for the now-scarce tablets.
“One gallon of chlorinating liquid is equivalent to dosing your pool with two of the traditional 8-ounce chlorinating tablets,” stated David Rouse, Biolab’s vice president of research and development. “Just be sure to use chlorinating liquid intended for pool care, as it contains a higher concentration of the active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, than common household bleach.”
The chlorine tablet shortage may be news to the unlucky many who only have grass or a patio in their back yard, or no back yard at all.
It’s also of little importance to people who swim their laps or do their frolicking at public, institutional or club pools. Those pools typically use liquid chlorine in conjunction with larger, more sophisticated disinfecting systems that automatically gauge and dispense chlorine to maintain state-mandated levels of the germ-killing compound depending on the pool’s water volume and capacity.
But retail and wholesale suppliers say the shortage is a crisis that has emptied their shelves of the chlorine tablets just as children are scheduling weekend and after-school pool parties and parents are looking forward to cooling dips on weekends or after work.
“We’re missing out on a lot of sales because we’ve been getting 40 to 50 calls per day asking for tablets,” said McGrogan.
McGrogan’s wholesaler is Baystate Pool Supplies, a Massachusetts-based company with New Jersey locations in Rockaway and Kearny. Baystate’s New Jersey branch manager, David Cieri, said Friday that the company had been out of chlorine tablets for a week and he did not know when more would arrive.
“Right now, everything is so up in the air and delayed that we’e not sure where we stand,” said Cieri.
Since the shortage began, Cieri acknowledged having to pass along price increases to the retailers he supplies, who along with his own employees have shared horror stories about desperate pool owners.
“I’ve heard of lines out the door as soon as they open,” he said. “One of my truck drivers was at a stop light and people were honking their horn asking, ‘Have you got any chlorine tablets on the truck?’”
Cieri said KIK had been a Baystate supplier, and that the company’s Louisiana plant had accounted for a substantial share of the nation’s chlorine tablets. But he said the dip in the nation’s overall production resulting from the fire — which broke out during Hurricane Laura — was compounded by hoarding of tablets by pool owners who learned of the problem through sensational news reports.
So Cieri urged pool owners to purchase only as much disinfectant as they normally would at any given interval.
And even if they can’t get chlorine tablets, he noted, there are alternatives, including liquid chlorine, calcium hypochlorite, various saline products (which, he assured, do not make your pool taste like salt water), and even ultraviolet light, an increasingly common form of disinfectant, especially as a supplement to liquid chlorine at pool clubs.
“Everybody stay calm and please just get what you need,” Cieri said.
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Steve Strunsky may be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com
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