In the first week of March, 2017, the hashtag #pinkwater began to trend on Twitter along with images of what can only be described as neon pink water pouring out of taps.
Photos and videos of the fuchsia-colored water originated in Onoway, a small town of 1,000 residents in central Alberta, Canada. The town’s residents reacted with a range of emotions from bemused to frightened, but everyone wanted to know the answer to a question no-one should ever have to ask: why is the tap water neon pink? (We’re not exaggerating about the color either—check out this Twitter feed).
The cause, according to Onoway mayor Dale Krasnow, was a water treatment chemical called potassium permanganate. A stuck valve allowed the chemical, also called potassium salts, to spill into the town’s sump reservoir and from there into the water distribution system. Once the town’s water lines were flushed, the water ran clear again.
What is Potassium Permanganate?
Potassium permanganate is an inorganic chemical compound which has been used in liquid form to treat wounds and dermatitis. As a water compound treatment it is used to remove excess iron and “rotten egg smells” from well water and waste water in combination with manganese greensand filters. The chemical has also been used to age movie props.
Diluted in water, potassium permanganate is relatively safe. As a solid, however, the chemical compound takes the form of purple crystals. The crystals have a sweet taste, but this is not a chemical you want in your mouth. Contact with solid potassium permanganate can cause severe skin irritation and burns, and ingestion results in acute toxicity. Breathing in potassium salts also causes respiratory irritation.
According to the National Institute of Health’s Open Chemistry Database, potassium permanganate is extremely toxic to aquatic life, and is suspected of causing genetic defects in unborn children. Long-term exposure is linked to organ damage.
Now as with any chemical, potassium permanganate’s toxicity is very much dependent on dosage levels and concentration, and used properly potassium salts have practical applications. Having said that, it shouldn’t be in water that’s been properly treated, especially in sufficient quantities it turns the water pink. If you’re concerned about the quality of your water, it may be best to safeguard your family’s drinking water with filters that have a carbon block like Pelican Water’s whole house water filter or countertop drinking filter. If you are unsure of your water quality issues, you can also discuss some of your water concerns with a water quality specialist at Pelican Water. Ensure you and your family have cleaner, safer water by installing a water filter.