An explosion at a Japanese chemical plant this weekend has the spectre of a global diaper shortage.
The plant in the coastal city of Himeji, operated by Nippon Shokubai Co., is one of the world’s largest producers of acrylic acid, a primary ingredient used in disposable diapers.
Powerful blasts rocked the facility Saturday, as firefighters were trying to control a blaze at one of the tanks containing the chemical. One firefighter died and 34 employees and first responders were injured in the blast.
Acrylic acid is a key component of superabsorbent polymers or SAP, which absorb large amounts of liquid. Nippon Shokubai makes roughly 20 percent of the world’s SAP and maintains a 10 percent global market share of acrylic acid. The plant had been ramping up production to meet increasing global demand, especially from China, according to Japanese media reports.
Prior to the accident, the plant in the Hyogo Prefecture manufactured 460,000 tons of acrylic acid annually, supplying clients like Procter and Gamble, which relied on Nippon Shokubai for products it sold in Asia.
Roughly 4 million tons of acrylic acid are produced in the world, with the largest manufacturers in Germany and the U.S., according to Nippon Shokubai spokesman Akira Kurusu.
Kurusu said the company had already reached out to other producers to make sure their clients’ needs are met, but said he could not comment on whether the plant closure in Japan would affect global costs and supply.