A “major electrical failure” at the Longview Westlake Chemical company plant in June has rippled out across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California as chlorine chemicals used to disinfect drinking water and treat wastewater have become scarce.
The cities of Kalama and Rainier have asked people to conserve water both inside and outside, including shutting off sprinklers and not filling pools.
Water still is safe to drink, the cities and the Oregon Department of Emergency management said, and there are reserve supplies on hand.
Westlake Chemical spokesman Chip Swearngan said the plant, which is located inside Nippon Dynawave Packaging on Industrial Way, manufactures chlorine and caustic soda.
The Longview facility was purchased by Westlake Chemical in 2016 with its acquisition of Axiall Corp. Westlake is an international manufacturer with headquarters in Houston.
Earlier in June, a piece of equipment experienced a failure with an electrical transformer. The failed piece of equipment is in the process of being repaired at an off-site location due to the nature of the damage, the Oregon Department of Emergency Management said. Officials expect the plant to be offline until the end of June at a minimum.
“Westlake is evaluating its options to bring the Longview plant back online and is actively working to help supply chlorine through the market, other Westlake plants or other means necessary to help alleviate the current supply shortage,” the company said in a statement to Oregon DEM.
Chlorination is a critical part of the water treatment process that disinfects and kills bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Fire crews spent more than 12 hours fighting, then monitoring, a Thursday night fire at the Hasa Inc. bleach bottling plant on Industrial Way.
The shortage is so acute because an August 2020 fire destroyed BioLab in Lake Charles, La., rendering that chlorine plant inoperable as well. That facility was responsible for a significant portion of chlorine tablets produced for the U.S. market, Oregon DEM said.
The public can continue to use water for drinking, cooking and bathing, but should limit outdoor use, like watering lawns, washing cars or filling swimming pools, according to the Oregon DEM said.
“There is no need to start amassing additional volumes of water,” the department said. “The state is coordinating the current chlorine inventory and working with local entities to share the supply until Westlake’s chlorine production resumes.”
Longview YMCA CEO Janine Manny said their pools use liquid chlorine, not tablets, so they won’t be affected by the shortage.
Rainer Mayor Jerry Cole said the city was told of the potential for a chlorine shortage Thursday and “staff immediately assessed the situation,” finding that the city has a reserve supply of 30-40 days.
City property that has not been used in almost seven years may be getting a new tenant.
Rainier’s drinking water uses chlorine, but does not use chlorine at the wastewater plant. The disinfection process for the wastewater is with ultraviolet light.
The city has stopped irrigating city properties to reduce the demand for chlorine and said “voluntary reductions for irrigation and other non-essential uses would help bridge the gap until the supply is restored.”
Kalama asked residents to conserve water for the next 30 days “to ensure the city can continue to supply safe water using the existing chemical supply it has on hand.”
The Kalama press release said the Washington State Department of Health Office of Drinking Water is working with agencies across the state and coordinating efforts.