Baltimore Bridge Collapse Raises Concerns for Chemical Industry Supply Chain

March 27, 2024
Chemical industry imports and exports about $9 million a day, or $62 million a week, through the Port of Baltimore.

The shipping accident that leveled the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore could impact the chemical supply chain, says Scott Jensen, director, advocacy communications, American Chemistry Council (ACC).

U.S. chemicals trade, including exports and imports, through the Port of Baltimore was $3.2 billion in 2023, according to data from ACC’s economics team. That equals about 1.1% of total U.S. chemicals trade, or about $9 million a day, Jensen says.

The largest categories of chemicals moving through the Port of Baltimore were nitrogenous fertilizers; inorganic elements, oxides and salts; plastics; and metallic salts.

While the trade group hasn’t heard from any members expressing concern over potential disruptions, it’s always a concern when a major port is taken out of operation, Jensen says.

“Then, you’re looking at workarounds, potentially alternative modes of transportation to get those materials to another nearby port, which will, of course, put strain on that port,” Jensen says.

Longer Lead Times

The bridge collapse led to a complete shutdown of maritime traffic through the port. Last year, the port accounted for more than 52 million tons of foreign cargo, worth some $80 billion, according to a recent statement from Maryland Governor Wes Moore's office.

Any shutdown of a major shipping hub has a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. The industry has already seen the impact of major global disruptions, including terrorist attacks on ships in the Suez Canal and pandemic-related delays.

The collapse is expected to have a far-reaching effect on freight movement, FleetOwner magazine reported.

About 4,900 trucks cross bridge daily, transporting $28 billion in goods every year, Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs and press secretary for the American Trucking Associations, told FleetOwner, a magazine published by Chemical Processing's parent company, Endeavor Business Media. 

If chemical manufacturers need to find shipping alternatives, like truck deliveries from a distant port, that will place pressure on truck availability, Jensen says.

The impact from longer shipping distances and lead times could impact pricing, depending on how long the situation persists.

“The longer this goes on, the harder it will be. You will probably start to see some of these impacts growing,” Jensen says.

As investigators piece together the cause of the accident, the incident highlights the importance of infrastructure in the supply chain, Jensen says.

“We (ACC) have been on the record in the past on the importance of investing in infrastructure and rebuilding infrastructure,” he says. “Clearly, this is not a case where you could say that the infrastructure failed because of age – more so of an accident. But having the resources on hand to invest into infrastructure is certainly really important.”

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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