Westlake Chemical, a chemical manufacturer in Longview, Washington, suffered a critical production failure for chemicals (chlorine, sodium hydroxide) that are essential to drinking water and wastewater utilities throughout Washington. Westlake expects to resume normal production on June 28, 2021.
- Is the water safe to drink?
Yes. There is no immediate affect on drinking water in our state. You can continue to use water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. We encourage you to limit outdoor use to extend the current chlorine supply.
- What caused the failure?
The failure occurred when a transformer failed.
- When will Westlake Chemical fix the problem?
The replacement transformer has arrived at the facility. Westlake expects to resume normal production June 28.
- Does this issue affect all water and sewer utilities in the state?
No. Some utilities have their own onsite chlorine generators or have enough supply on hand to last several weeks. Based on the latest information, our largest water utilities should have enough supply to last until chlorine supplies resume. We are still assessing the situation with smaller utilities throughout the state.
- Who is working on this issue?
We are working closely with our local, state and regional partners to proactively respond to this evolving situation. Washington utilities are working together to inventory needs across the state and are prepared to share remaining chlorine supply through mutual aid until production resumes.
- Is my water system aware of this issue?
Yes. We contacted certified water system operators across the state to make them aware of the situation and ask them to contact us if they think they will run out of chlorine or sodium hydroxide within the next 30 days. Seattle Public Utilities, Tacoma Public Utilities, and the City of Everett believe their chlorine supply should last for 20–30 days. We're still not sure about the status of smaller water systems.
- Can people like me do anything to extend the chlorine supply?
Yes. Use water wisely. Here are some indoor and outdoor water conservation tips:
- Use water only for drinking, cooking and bathing.
- Limit outdoor use such as filling pools, washing cars or watering lawns
- Wait until your dishwater and washing machines are full before you run them.
- Wash cars at a carwash where water is recycled.
Guidance for Water System Operators
Certified water system operators who think they will run out of chlorine or sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) within the next 30 days, can call their Office of Drinking Water regional engineer. Please visit the Office of Drinking Water website for a Map of Engineer and Planner Assignments for each county.
- How can water systems prepare for water treatment supply chain disruptions?
Evaluate what chemicals and supplies are critical to your operation.
- Coordinate with your materials supplier and transporter. Encourage them to take measures to ensure functionality and service.
- Identify alternate sources of materials and supplies and establish contact with them now.
- Maintain an inventory of available parts. Purchase spare parts now for all critical treatment equipment.
- Consider ordering chemicals more frequently and keeping larger amounts of chemicals on-site. For example, if you typically reorder when levels reach 25 percent of capacity, you could reorder at 50 percent of capacity.
- Make sure to date your chemical inventory and practice safe storage and handling according to EPA, Labor and Industries, OSHA and other requirements. If you use temporary storage be sure to label it clearly and have the Safety Data Sheet on the container.
- Review or develop mutual aid agreements with neighboring utilities. Coordinate with your mutual aid partners to identify resources that other nearby utilities may have on hand.
- Join WAWARN.
- We're about to run out of a critical chemical, material or spare part. We can't get more from our regular supplier. What can we do?
- Check with alternate suppliers you identified during emergency planning.
- Contact your mutual aid partners to see if they can help.
- Contact WAWARN if you are a member.
- Certain satellite management agencies, public utility districts, and larger systems that order in larger quantities may be able to assist small systems. Contact your DOH regional office for information.
- As a last resort, contact your local EOC and ask for help. The process for doing this is on the Washington Military Department's Emergency Management Division website.
- Be specific about what you need! For chemicals give the name, strength and amount you need, and be sure to tell them that it is for drinking water treatment.
- If you are unable to maintain normal operation due to lack of chemicals, contact your DOH regional office to discuss whether you need to issue a health advisory.
- What can we do if a specific water treatment chemical isn't available?
- If you experience hypochlorite shortages, consider switching from dry to liquid, or vice versa. Contact your DOH regional office to find out whether you need to submit documents for approval. If you use household strength (6-8 percent) switch to industrial strength (12.5 percent). Be aware that higher strength hypochlorite degrades more rapidly than lower strength and produces unwanted disinfection by-products when stored for long periods (especially at elevated temperatures). Dilute or adjust dose and be aware of the range limitations of your feed pump.
- If you use NSF-certified salt for on-site generation and experience a shortage, consider temporarily switching to food-grade salt. Another option is to switch to liquid hypochlorite. You will need to find the appropriate solution concentration and feed-pump setting. Be aware of the range limitations of your feed pump.
- For chlorine gas shortages consider temporarily switching to hypochlorite, either bleach or dry (calcium hypochlorite). Contact your DOH regional office to find out whether you need to submit documents for approval.
- For filter aid polymer, ask your supplier for the names of other utilities that use the same product and see if you can borrow some. Another option: switch to a similar NSF-certified product.
- For fluoride chemical shortages it's o.k. to stop adjusting fluoride levels for a short period. Make sure to let your customers know about the disruption. You must also include this information in your annual consumer confidence report.
- If you use liquid alum, switch to dry. If you use dry, switch to liquid.
- We normally use X percent hypochlorite and can only get Y percent. How do we adjust our dose?
We have a spreadsheet available. Contact your DOH regional office for assistance. Be aware of the range limitations of your feed pump.
- We can't get alum and want to switch to aluminum chlorohydrate (AC). What should we do?
If you use liquid, consider switching to dry alum. If you use dry, consider switching to liquid. If you have other changes in mind, consider the impact on the chloride-sulfate mass ratio and the potential impact on lead release in the distribution system. Contact your DOH regional office to discuss.
- We can't get our normal pH adjusting chemical. What should we do?
Contact your DOH regional office to discuss options.
Resources for Water Operators
Contact your regional office to discuss options.
- Eastern Region: 509-329-2100
- Northwest Region: 253-395-6750
- Southwest Region: 360-236-3030
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Headquarters Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water provided the following information and resources for individual systems.
- Emergency Response for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities: Tools and guidance to support drinking water and wastewater utility preparedness and response. These resources can help you become a more resilient utility.
- Water Sector Supply Chain - Chemical Shortages: Explains what public water or wastewater systems should do if they experience a shortage or other serious supply chain issues for water treatment chemicals and other critical supplies.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Section 1441 of the Safe Drinking Water Act: Discusses what public water or wastewater systems can do if they experience a chemical supply disruption.
- How to Use the Defense Production Act: Provides steps in the process for a public water or wastewater system unable to secure critical resources necessary for water treatment. Includes FAQs about the Defense Production Act.
Join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a webinar focused on the sodium hypochlorite supply chain and safe management practices. Attendees will learn how to increase supply chain resilience at their water or wastewater utility. June 30, 2021, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Register here.