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Fears pool prospects will dry up amid panic buying, hoarding of chlorine tablets

Suppliers are feeling the pinch of a continent-wide shortage of chlorine tablets, coupled with unprecedented demand for pool products, as people look to create a backyard oasis during yet another pandemic summer.

An Ontario pool supplier says this year's start to the season has been like no other

Swimming pools have long been a suburban oasis in the midst of a sweltering Ontario summer, but suppliers worry an unstable supply chain might mean a chlorine shortage later this summer. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Stories of panic buying and hoarding amid a looming continent-wide shortage of chlorine tablets could see pool owners and suppliers face steep price increases as supplies dwindle ahead of the summer pool season. 

The problems started last August after a fire crippled production at BioLabs, a chemical manufacturing plant in Louisiana and one of the industry's leading manufacturers of chlorine tablets.

Since then, coronavirus restrictions and illness have caused shutdowns at other manufacturers who are scrambling to keep up with the unprecedented demand caused by families confined to their homes as a second summer of the pandemic begins. 

It means the supply chain is being tested as never before, with suppliers scrambling to offer their customers products they expect at the prices they promised under constantly changing market conditions. 

Demand for pool supplies 'bonkers'

"It's bonkers," said Steven Zaitchik, the Toronto-based general manager of Discounter's Pool and Spa Warehouse, a hot tub and pool supply chain with eight locations across southern Ontario.

"We've had countless increases from manufacturers. On a daily basis, we're trying to manage price differences," 

Reports of pool chlorine shortages began last year. Since then, coronavirus restrictions and illness have caused manufacturers to scramble to keep up with the unprecedented demand. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Zaitchik said that in a 28-year career, this pool season, with its unprecedented demand and scarcity, is like nothing he's ever seen.  

"Not only have I never seen a chlorine shortage, but I've never seen shortages across so many categories and subcategories in the industry. It's almost every time I turn around something is delayed or in short supply."

Hot tubs, pools, parts, chemicals – all are under increased demand earlier than usual, according to Zaitchik, as pool owners prep for the summer swimming season after a long pandemic winter. 

People building their own backyard oasis

"The shortages in the industry have caused tremendous strain on the supply chain and requires us to find ways to be innovative to balance the requirements of what our customers are looking for when they need it and what our supply chain is willing to provide us," said Zaitchik.

CBC News spoke to staff at three supply stores in the London, Ont., area who all reported similar experiences.

Chris Deacon, a co-owner of Blue Haven Pool and Spa in London, Ont., says that last summer, he was digging pools through to January, something that's never happened before. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

With beach towns telling city dwellers to stay away and nightly newscasts broadcasting images of hospital patients on oxygen in intensive care, many people seem to be hunkering down and insulating themselves from the cold reality of the crisis by building their own backyard oasis, however humble or extravagant. 

Demand has been so high since the pandemic began that pool builders like Chris Deacon, one of the owners of Blue Haven Pool and Spa in London, have, for the first time, started putting prospective pool owners on wait lists. 

"It started last year, with the first shutdown when the COVID hit," he said. "Sales started the same, and then as soon as the lockdown hit, then it surged.

"We went all the way to January pretty much doing pools, just to keep up with what we sold last year," he said, noting he's rarely had to dig pools in the winter before.  

Deacon digs a new pool in a backyard in the suburbs of London, Ont. He says with strong demand and ongoing supply issues, his company can barely keep up. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"It's been so busy it's been hard to keep up," he said. "We can't really do more. We're booking for next year. Everyone is on a waiting list." 

Deacon said while he's thankful for the work, he's been hamstrung by pressures on the supply chain caused by an unprecedented winter storm in Texas that caused widespread power outages and ultimately shut down a number of manufacturing facilities for pool parts. 

"That's backlogging pools and it's trickling down to everything. Then you got the chlorine shortage. You have shipments coming and nobody knows what's going to be on them. Everyone's rush-buying everything." 

Industry insiders predict the continued strain on the supply chain means prices for pools, hot tubs, parts and chemical supplies will continue to rise.

As far as chlorine goes, Zaitchik said pool owners can always switch to liquid if tablets run out, which many suppliers are expecting later this summer. 

"Based on what I'm hearing and seeing from our supply chain, I do suspect that by the end of the summer we could see some outages."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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