Some UK public swimming pools forced to close over national chlorine shortage

A shortage of chlorine is forcing some public swimming pools to close, with operators blaming factors ranging from a production fall in China to Brexit and the war in Ukraine.

Saxon Pool in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, has been closed to general swimmers since 6 May, with the operator and Central Bedfordshire council cancelling almost all sessions, apart from swimming lessons and a swimathon event.

Users were informed via email: “Unfortunately, due to a nationwide issue, SLL have been unable to secure orders of pool chemicals from Europe which is essential to operate the pool fully.” According to its website, most users will be unable to swim until more chemicals arrive. The council said deliveries were expected next week.

Runnymede Leisure Centre in Benfleet had to close its pool one weekend in April after running out of melclorite, a type of chlorine, which it reportedly obtained from manufacturers in Ukraine.

At the University of East Anglia, the pool closed for five days, with managers citing “severely depleted” levels of chlorine gas in the UK. It reopened on 10 May after a delivery, announcing the good news to users by tweeting: “Swimming is back.”

Industry experts have pointed to a variety of reasons for the supply disruptions.

“Some pool chemical companies are experiencing supply chain difficulties,” said Chris Hayes, managing director for the UK’s Swimming Pool and Allied Trades Association.

“These can be attributed to a number of issues, including a temporarily reduced supply in the UK, a backlog coming from China’s supply chain caused by Covid, a significant fire in a US chemical plant in late 2020 and worldwide transportation issues. We are aware that some public pools have needed to close temporarily, and chemical suppliers will be working with these leisure facilities to look at other appropriate pool chemicals that can be used.”

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The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG), a UK-based independent membership organisation, said there was a national shortage of calcium hypochlorite, a solid form of chlorine. This has driven up prices by 50% to 60%.

Janice Calvert, the group’s chair, said manufacturing in China had declined, particularly in the run-up to the winter Olympics, because Beijing has been tightening up on environmental pollution and closing down factories that were non-compliant.

She added there was a problem shipping chemicals from China to the UK, with the only route now being via Antwerp. Moreover, INEOS, the main manufacturer of sodium hypochlorite (a liquid form of chloride) in the UK, shut down its plant for May and part of June.

As a result of Brexit, chlorine manufacturers have to obtain separate regulatory approval for their products in the UK as well as the EU, at an initial cost of £100,000 per product, but approvals only last 10 years, in a relatively small market. This has led some suppliers to buy from others that have approval, which means there are only two main suppliers left in the UK, said PWTAG.

The Chemical Business Association said: “The horrific situation in Ukraine has wrought further havoc on an already heavily disrupted chemical supply chain caused by factors such as Covid, Brexit or driver shortages.”