Residents of Onoway, Alberta got quite the jolt earlier this week when water of a distinctly pinkish hue started to flow from their taps.
It looks like pink lemonade, but the water’s jarring pink color was caused by a disinfecting chemical agent known as potassium permanganate. The town’s water authority had just wrapped up a routine flushing of its water lines, and the chemical, which appears pink when dissolved into water, managed to seep through into the reservoir.
The alternative explanation is that Onoway is on the verge of a
Ghostbusters-style pink tub goo monster epidemic.
“My hubby gets up this morning to take a shower and he goes, ‘Sheila, why is there pink water coming out of the faucet?’” said Onoway resident Sheila Pockett in an interview with the CBC.
“It started out with my neighbour asking me if I had pink water, and I’m like ‘I don’t think so’,” said Vicki Van Zanten Heale to CTV. “A little bit later our water became pink.”
Residents are upset with the town for failing to alert them to the pink water, and for failing to let them know if the water was safe to drink. Reports of the pink water started to trickle in on Monday afternoon, but the city waited until 10:00 am the next morning to finally issue a statement on its Facebook page (which is weirdly inaccessible at the moment):
Yesterday, during normal line flushing and filter backwashing, a valve seems to have stuck open allowing potassium permanganate to get into the sump reservoir. The reservoir was drained, however some of the chemical still made it into the distribution system.
While it is alarming to see pink water coming from your taps, potassium permanganate is used in normal treatment processes to help remove iron and manganese and residents were never at risk.
The town’s mayor, Dale Krasnow, took some heat for the delayed response, and issued a statement of apology. “We were never advised by Alberta Environment to issue a public advisory and all indications are that there was never a public health risk,” said Krasnow. “Could the town have done a better job of communicating what was going on yesterday to our community—absolutely, without a doubt. And we do apologize for that.”
Officials with Alberta’s environment agency inspected the water lines on Tuesday afternoon and proclaimed it safe, while the town completed the required repairs by the end of day.
In addition to removing iron, potassium permanganate is used to remove hydrogen sulphide—which smells like rotten eggs—from well water and wastewater. It’s harmless when diluted, but it can cause irritation or burns when the concentrated salt makes direct contact with the skin.