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Carus warns of a 3-month outage for permanganate chemicals

Warehouse fire hobbles the sole US producer of water treatment chemicals

by Rick Mullin
January 23, 2023

Smoke billows from a chemical plant fire.
Credit: Associated Press
The Jan. 11 fire at Carus in LaSalle, Illinois, heavily damaged the facility but resulted in no serious injuries.

A fire at a Carus plant in LaSalle, Illinois, has temporarily shut down the only US producer of potassium permanganate and sodium permanganate and is raising concern about availability of the important water treatment chemicals.

The Jan. 11 fire destroyed a warehouse and caused extensive damage at the facility, Carus says. The firm declared force majeure on Jan. 18, saying it will be at least 90 days before it can fulfill orders for permanganate chemicals.

The company supplies about 80% of the US market for the chemicals, which are used in municipal water treatment to oxidize dissolved iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide into solids that can be filtered out. The bulk of imported potassium permanganate and sodium permanganate comes from India. China is the world’s largest producer of the chemicals, but companies there are hobbled by a US antidumping tariff on potassium permanganate.

A Jan. 18 bulletin from the US Environmental Protection Agency warns that Carus customers should try to find alternate suppliers. “Water and wastewater systems that receive chemicals that are produced at the Carus facility in LaSalle may experience supply chain disruptions, and the domestic market for these chemicals will likely experience challenges until the lost production capacity is restored,” the notice says.

Indeed, news of the fire sparked a round of anxious calls from municipal authorities and others seeking to secure supply for the months ahead.

“I’m getting an insane amount of calls for an insane amount of volume,” says one distributor who supplies imported permanganate, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of his company’s policy. “I’m getting unsolicited orders for six to eight months.” He and others anticipate an outage of considerably longer than 90 days.

Chemical distributors say the timing of the incident could have been worse. “Demand for permanganate is typically much higher in the summer than in the winter,” says Mike Ricks, president of Water Solutions Unlimited, an Indiana-based distributor that imports permanganate from India. “The bad news is that for people like us, inventory is low. There is not a lot of excess in the market.”

Distributors agree that permanganate prices will jump by 25–50% beginning in a matter of weeks and lasting until Carus is back in full operation. Ricks says it will be several weeks before sufficient supply from India will be available and that it will be difficult to meet the demand from Carus customers.

“I have enough for my current customers,” says Ricks, who has received several calls from water treatment authorities and others whose suppliers are unable to deliver. “I am asking them, ‘Can you get to March?’ and how much they need to get to March.” He says his firm has increased orders from India but that it generally takes about 8 weeks to receive those shipments. The company is also ordering sodium permanganate from China.

Ricks notes that the outage could cause some changes in the market, including an accelerated shift from potassium permanganate to cleaner and easier-to-use sodium permanganate. And the increased use of imported chemicals may cut into Carus’s business going forward, he says, as users, especially municipal water authorities who operate with a buy-US policy, experience the high quality of the imports.

There were no serious injuries as a result of the fire, according to Carus. Local residents were advised to shelter in place. The company says it anticipates no significant interruption in the production and supply of phosphate chemicals that are manufactured at the facility.


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