What would you do if you turned on your tap to get a glass of water to drink and the liquid that came out was hot pink?

Well, this recently happened to the residents of the small Alberta town of Onoway, Canada, and they were very surprised, puzzled and just a bit alarmed, to say the least.

The approximate one thousand residents of Onaway, which is about 50 kilometres northwest of Edmonton in Lac Step Anne County, awoke to find that the water to make their morning coffee had took on a startling pink hue overnight and the residents were up in arms about it.

Apparently the strange hue was caused by potassium permanganate, which is a salt-based chemical that has a wide range of uses, including water treatment. Potassium permanganate is a chemical used in the standard water treatment process all over the world to remove iron and hydrogen sulphide from water supplies. Hydrogen sulphide is corrosive and highly poisonous, and has a distinctive, foul odour of rotten eggs.

Despite the hot pink colour it turned the water, potassium permanganate holds no significant health risk in small quantities, although large quantities can cause skin irritation. There were no reports of any adverse medical effects in Onoway.

Apparently, according to Mayor Krasnow, the problem was caused by a faulty valve which got stuck in the open position, allowing the potassium permanganate to get into the sump reservoir and thereby into the Town’s water distribution system.

While residents accepted this explanation, they were furious that they had not been given any notification as the problem had been known since 9pm the previous evening and they were only officially told about the official cause of the problem the next day.

In Mayor Krasnow’s message posted on the town’s website on Tuesday, he said that the town had drained its water reservoir and is flushing the distribution system and apologised for the way in which the problem had been handled – or rather not handled – and promised that a strategy for better response and communication was urgently being developed.

Towns people were asked to keep all their taps running until water turned clear, flushing out the chemical agent from the system.

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