The ripple effect: Why you might want to stock up on chlorine pucks right now

You can add chlorine tablets to the list of items that are going to be super-pricey this year — if you can get them at all.

A North America-wide shortage of chlorine is sending prices soaring, and the effects are already being felt here in New Brunswick.

The cause is an unfortunate double-whammy, with a production disaster and the pandemic each playing a role.

In August 2020, a massive fire at a plant in Louisiana took North America’s largest supplier of pool and spa treatments offline. 

The BioLab plant produces about 70 per cent of the North American market’s chlorine treatments, according to Dion Rodrigues, marketing director for Burlington, Ont.-based Pool Supplies Canada. 

The plant isn’t expected to resume production until spring of 2022.

“So that situation is definitely having an impact on the Canadian pool industry,” Rodrigues said.

But demand for chlorine was surging even before the fire, he said, as Canadians shut in by the pandemic dove into pool and hot tub purchases in record numbers.

“Basically, they took their unused travel budget and said, ‘We’ll put the hotel pool in the backyard.'”

Prices already up by close to 20 per cent 

Shelley Melvin of Emmerson Pools in Rothesay said she’s certainly seen that playing here in New Brunswick.

Melvin said Emmerson’s pool and hot tub installations “have already at least doubled,” with more coming on line this summer.

That’s not only caused a shortage of chemicals but also of liners and other pool-related items, because staffing at many manufacturing plants is at half-capacity because of the pandemic, Melvin said.

People panic a bit and buy more than they need. I think if people wouldn’t do that, it would certainly help a lot.– Paul Crowdis, pool and hot tub owner

Kelly Hare, who co-owns Premium Pools and Spas with husband Tim Hickey, said prices have already gone up by 10 to 15 per cent, and in some cases up to 20 per cent, on everything from chlorine pucks to hot tubs, and there are “huge supply chain backups.”

As well, she said, manufacturers have limited the amount of spas and other items that can be ordered.

“They’ve capped what you can get, so everything we’ve got to sell is selling quick,” Hare said.

Three’s a crowdis: Paul Crowdis’s sons relax in the family’s hot tub. (Submitted by Paul Crowdis)

Concerns about panic-buying relapses

Some predict the shortage will trigger another pandemic phenomenon: hoarding.

It’s certainly a concern in the U.S., where multiple news outlets are warning of tight supplies and residents are lamenting chlorine droughts on Facebook.

“Dude. Who is hoarding the chlorine tablets??? All surrounding stores…none!” one person posted Thursday on the public Above Ground Swimming Pools group page, which lists both Canadian and American members.

“I bought one tub two weeks ago (5lbs) for $29 and Amazon is trying to sell for $160. If you’re hoarding, STOP! … We all wanna enjoy our pools here.”

Rothesay resident Paul Crowdis said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen here.

It’s one thing to buy enough for the season; it’s quite another to buy enough for five seasons, leaving none for anyone else, he said.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, you couldn’t buy a roll of toilet paper in this city,” Crowdis said.

“It’s the same thing with chlorine, people panic a bit and buy more than they need. I think if people wouldn’t do that, it would certainly help a lot.”

Crowdis, who has both a pool and a hot tub, said he stocked up on chlorine pucks last season, when prices were marked down.

“But when I went to buy some granulated [chlorine] I did notice the price had gone up … about 20 per cent. And the price of pucks was up too, about 15 per cent.”

As an example, he said, a large container of granulated chlorine that cost $79 last year is now going for $99.

The chlorine shortage won’t affect public pools such as the Qplex pool in Quispamsis or the Canada Games Aquatic Centre pool in Saint John, shown here, because they use non-stabilized chlorine. (CBC News file photo)

Looking to alternatives to chlorine

Crowdis said the price hasn’t yet reached a point where he’d consider shutting his pool or hot tub down, but he said he is already thinking ahead to alternatives, such as a salt-water system.

Hare said Premium Pools has had quite a few inquiries about alternative systems, such as ionizers and salt-water systems.

“But [the salt-water systems] are on back-order as well, and there’s no salt,” Hare said. “Canadian Tire, Walmart, they’re all sold out.”

Ionizers are popular, she said, but at $800, they’re not a cheap fix, and the price will be increasing because of demand-and-supply crunches.

“It’s just one more thing to add to the list of prices that are going up.”

If you’re looking for a bright spot, there are some pools that won’t be affected by the price hike: public recreational pools.

Ernie Breau, maintenance manager at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre, said the chlorine shortage won’t impact the pool or the city’s splash pads, because they use non-stabilized chlorine pucks.

“As I understand it, the shortage is affecting stabilized pucks and calcium hypochloride chlorine powder, used for home pools and spas,” Breau said.

However, he noted, “from what I’m hearing, people are already stocking up on even the non-stabilized pucks.”