Chlorine shortage hits southeast Kansas

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun
Chlorine tablets like those shown here have become scarce nationwide.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — With summer right around the corner, many are undoubtedly looking forward to going swimming, perhaps for the first time in over a year, since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public pools. A chlorine shortage is threatening to throw cold water on such plans nationwide, however, and southeast Kansas is not immune. 

Brian Cussimanio, public works director for the City of Frontenac, said at Monday’s city council meeting that he ordered enough chlorine tablets to last through the summer three or four weeks ago, when he first heard they were becoming scarce.  

He was assured that several hundred pounds of the tablets would arrive with the city’s regular shipment from its water treatment chemical supplier, but they didn’t show up, Cussimanio said.  

“Where we’re sitting, we’ve got about 70 pounds, and we use about 600 or more for the season,” Cussimanio said. “And I’m telling you we’ve been looking for weeks everywhere, and there’s nothing to be found, and if you do find it, you know, you’re looking at a 30-pound bucket for $600, because they’re starting to gouge now.” 

Frontenac City Administrator John Zafuta said Monday that the city’s public pool was ready to open — pending delivery of the chlorine tablets, which had been rescheduled to arrive on Tuesday. But Tuesday came and went, and no chlorine tablets appeared. 

The Frontenac City Swimming Pool will still open for Memorial Day weekend as planned, Zafuta said Wednesday, but if the city can’t find some more chlorine tablets, they will run out within a few weeks. 

“The pool is painted, it’s filled, it’s ready to go,” Cussimanio said. “If we don’t have chlorine tablets, we’re dead in the water.” 

Jerry Friel, owner of We Do All Pools And More at the corner of Euclid Street and South Broadway in Pittsburg, said his chlorine supplier has told him the shortage is likely to last all summer, if not through the rest of the year. 

A fire at a chemical plant in Louisiana that was hit by Hurricane Laura last summer is reportedly a major cause of the chlorine tablet shortage, which does not appear to be significantly affecting the supply of liquid chlorine. COVID-19 has also played a role, although in some ways the pandemic benefited the pool industry. 

“Covid has actually been great for the pool business, because people haven’t been able to go out and travel,” said Friel. In 2020, “there was a shortage of pools, because everybody wanted to have a pool,” he said. “Well, this year we can get the pools, but you can’t get the chlorine and you can’t get the liner, so that’s how Covid has really affected the pool business.” 

Despite the shortage, Friel said, he is trying to sell any chlorine tablets he can find for the same price he would normally charge. The problem, though, is there have been hardly any tablets available at all since at least mid-April, when Friel first heard of the shortage. 

“Even by then, we tried putting an order in with our supplier, and he says ‘No, we’ve got to limit you, this is how much you can buy this year, and that’s it,’” he said. 

CNBC reported in late April that the price of chlorine was expected to increase by 70 percent this summer compared to 2020, and that “in some parts of the country, the price of chlorine tablets has already doubled over the past year.”  

In a normal year, chlorine tablets would make up about 20 percent of Friel’s sales revenue, he said. Not every entity that operates a public pool, however, is feeling the effect of the chlorine shortage equally.  

“A lot of the bigger ones, like the YMCA, I believe they have a liquid chlorine system that injects it,” Friel said. Officials at both the Pittsburg Family YMCA and the City of Pittsburg Parks and Recreation Department said they are not expecting an impact from the chlorine shortage. 

Other government agencies that rely on chlorine tablets but heard about the shortage soon enough were able to obtain an adequate supply earlier in the spring. One of these was the City of Scammon, which bought its tablets from We Do All Pools And More. 

“They went to one of the local stores,” Friel said. “They said ‘No, we don’t have it. If we did, we could only sell you one pail.’ So, they came to us and stocked up.” 

The chlorine tablet shortage is causing some to look for alternatives, including converting their pools to saltwater systems, which Friel said are increasingly popular. 

“You put salt in it, and with the proper equipment then that converts into chlorine,” he said. “A lot of places are against it because that takes out their sale of other chemicals, because with the saltwater system you don’t need a lot of other chemicals.” 

Another option is liquid chlorine, Friel said, although his store doesn’t sell it. 

“I don’t like handling the liquid chlorine, so we don’t supply it,” he said. “We don’t purchase it to resell. But I recommend that for people to go and use, just to help the customer out.” 

Aside from switching to an alternative to chlorine tablets, it’s unclear what steps pool owners should take in response to the shortage, and conflicting advice has been offered. 

“What's clear is that pool owners should consider stocking up sooner rather than later,” according to CNN Business

According to Rudy Stankowitz, however, who is a “pool water chemistry expert” and author of a book about pool algae removal, everyone should do their part to alleviate the shortage by refraining from hoarding chlorine tablets. 

“I think the severity of the shortage is going to be directly related to people buying in reasonable quantities. […] If you stock up, it will make it even harder to find,” Stankowitz reportedly said.  

“It’s the new toilet paper,” Frontenac City Councilman Joe Martin observed at Monday’s meeting. 

Friel, for his part, warned pool owners desperate for chlorine tablets to be skeptical of offers that sound too good to be true. The tablets could be counterfeit. 

“Just be careful, you know,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised, with the prices like that, if somebody doesn’t start making tablets that aren’t authentic, so just be careful what you purchase.”