Tap water turns purple in Ohio town overnight


Residents of Coal Grove, a village in Lawrence County, Ohio woke up on June 3, 2019 to find their bathrooms looking like a scene from Ghostbusters.

Their taps ran with bright pink water and their toilet bowls filled with Pepto-Bismol-tinted liquid. And no, that doesn’t mean you’ll develop superhero-like qualities overnight.

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A town in Ohio woke up to find its tap water had turned pink overnight. Picture via WDTV 5

So, what happened?

According to an official, there was a pump malfunction at the local water plant overnight, resulting in a large quantity of sodium permanganate being dumped into the water.

Sodium permanganate is used to control tap water’s taste and smell by removing iron and magnesium from the water through a process of oxidization. Somewhat ironically, it’s also typically used to make the water appear clearer and more appetizing. 

The chemical has mild disinfectant properties too, so it helps to take the edge off biological growth, such as small freshwater mussels that can lurk in water treatment plants.

Under normal circumstances, water is treated with a dose of 1 to 3 milligrams of potassium permanganate per liter of water. Around 3 kilograms (7 pounds) of sodium permanganate is added to the water supply each day at this particular Ohio water treatment plant. However, the past weekend saw over 14 times that dose ending up in the system.

Despite its offputting color, the water was not a danger to public health, the authorities said, and could still be drunk in small quantities if diluted. However, residents were recommended not to wash their clothes with the stuff.

I got white hair,” Karen Turner, a Coal Grove resident, said. “Could you imagine if I washed my hair in pink water?

Fortunately, the water is now back to normal and the pink has been flushed from the system with most residents only experiencing problems for half a day.

A few months ago, a freak bout of hot weather and low rainfall caused the Melbourne lake to become saltier than usual, killing off many of the lake’s natural inhabitants and allowing Dunaliella salina algae to bloom. Awesome, no?

[WDTV 5, WCHSTV, IFL Science]

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