Red faces over pink water

Kaipara District Council officials have been left red-faced after a small Northland town's tap water was accidentally turned pink.

Water treated with Condy's crystals (potassium permanganate) accidentally flowed through Maungaturoto's water pipes earlier this month after a mix-up at a Kaipara water plant.

Condy's crystals is a disinfectant used in the Kaipara district's water purification process, before the water is treated with chlorine. It was also a popular cure for venereal disease in the early 1900s.

Residents were telephoned about the leak and received a follow-up notice in the mail, although not all residents were able to be contacted by phone.

The notice delivered to Maungaturoto homes - in some cases a day after their tap water had been running pink - said the water contained a disinfectant and was harmless, although "there is a chance that whites in washing may be discoloured".

The notice was issued by council contractors Environmental Operations Ltd.

Maungaturoto resident Michelle Kemp said she had been particularly concerned about the pink water as she has an 18-month-old daughter. "I was in the process of filling up one of my daughter's milk bottles with water for her to drink and I suddenly saw this pink water coming out of the tap," she said.

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She had tipped the pink water out and filled the bottle with boiled water she had in a container.

Mrs Kemp said the water was pink for about three days.

She had not received a phone call and was not impressed with being told a day later about something she could have already ingested. "I know they said in the notification that it was harmless stuff but that's been said about some drugs which have had devastating effects on people and children," she said.

Noel Radd Motors employee Atawhai Colmer said the service station had been phoned and told the water was going to turn pink later in the day. The phone call was followed up by a notice delivered to the station later in the day.

"I know a lot of people around Maungaturoto were told about it happening by phone," she said.

Kaipara District Council chief executive officer Jack McKerchar confirmed the pink colour was Condy's crystals used in sterilising a portion of the plant that ran the water supply.

Mr McKerchar said the solution was harmless and all households and businesses should have been notified by phone and then formally notified the next day.

"It should never have happened and there are extra safety measures being put in place so this won't happen again in the future," he said. He was satisfied the mixture was not harmful to public health. One ratepayer had said she had good results with her washing after using the pink water, he said.

KDC asset manager Blair King said the problem started after a clean-out of a large "raw" water storage tank holding water from the Brynderwyns and a stream.

The raw water goes from the big storage tank into a clarifier tank - which has sand filters - and then into the town's water treatment plant.

After cleaning the big tank staff noticed "bubbling" which was suspected to be soda in the water that could gunk up the clarifying process. The raw water was tested and divers went into the tank to see if they could find the source of the problem.

A laboratory that tested the water suggested it was an "algae-type" problem and advised that Condy's crystals would clear it up.

Mr King said that advice "didn't work". Council staff had thought the Condy's crystals would be ``absorbed'' but "through an oversight on our part" pink-coloured water was released into the town supply.

He said the council received nearly 200 phone calls about the pink water.

Asked if the council was embarrassed about it, he said: "That would be a nice way to look at it".

Since the incident three weeks ago the council has installed air valves in the water inlet supply to the big tank and it appears to have cured the problem.

 
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