By Yesenia Taveras – Staff Writer
An explosion at the Nippon Shokubai Co. factory in Himeji Japan left one firefighter dead and 36 others suffering from mild to severe injuries. The explosion and fire damaged the acrylic acid tanks of the Himeji Plant on September 29, 2012. The injured include firefighters, police officers and employees. While this is certainly tragic news from afar, it has caused panic domestically because of the factory’s main product- the main chemical component of the absorbency panel in disposable diapers. Concern over just how, if indeed at all, this event may affect the parents of diaper-aged children has surfaced not only abroad, but locally as well.
Nippon Shokubai Co. is a global chemical company that, according to the company’s website, currently has the largest global market share of superabsorbent polymer and has been growing in order to meet international demand. It is estimated that Nippon Shokubai makes approximately 20 percent of the world’s superabsorbent polymer. The superabsorbent polymer, which is part of their acrylic business, is used primarily in disposable diapers or nappies. With the current status of all operations at the Himeji Plant listed as suspended, parents are starting to grow concerned over the future U.S. availability of diapers. Parenting messages boards have been abuzz with fears of price hikes and discussions of alternatives, such as cloth diaper services and early potty training.
There has currently been no official statement from the Nippon Shokubai Co. or any of their clients stating that there is any reason to speculate on a diaper shortage. According to a press release on October 2, 2012 from the Nippon Sokubai Co.’s website, the impact the damage from the Himeji Plant fire will have on their product line availability is unknown at this time. It is important to note that the Nippon Shokubai Co has other production plants located in the USA, Belgium, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Korea, and Taiwan.
Clients of the Nippon Shokubai Co., such as Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Pampers and Luvs brand diapers, seem unconcerned with the potential disruption. Spokeswoman Lauren Thaman of Proctor & Gamble stated that the company has “other suppliers globally,” and strong contingency plans in case of supply challenges, and that they are not expecting a shortage. Lauren Thaman went on to say, “While we are still assessing the situation, we do not expect significant impact on most of our global business.” Proctor & Gamble also relies on Nippon Shokubai primarily for their products sold in Asia, not in the USA. Akira Kurusu, Nippon Shokubai Co. spokesman reiterated the inability to confirm if the Himeji Plant closure would affect global business, however he did state that the company had “reached out to other producers to make sure their clients’ needs were met.”