An industrial waste disposal facility dumped a chemical in the Tone River in Japan, causing formaldehyde levels to exceed acceptable limits. More than 300,000 households lost their water supply over the last weekend.
The Tone River supplies drinking water to many cities along its course. A week ago, water treatment plants discovered rising concentrations of formaldehyde in the river and shut down their intakes. None of the contaminated water was passed on to residents. Water facilities trucked in water to make sure people could still drink.
At the time, a factory spill was suspected, but the source could not be determined. An industrial waste disposal facility has taken responsibility for the formaldehyde since then.
The waste disposal facility in Gunma Prefecture dumped hexamethylenetetramine into the Tone River in order to dispose of it for a company in Saitama Prefecture. The waste disposal facility said it was not notified that the chemical was a precursor for formaldehyde.
The chemical is mainly used as an industrial chemical. It is a hardening component and shows up in things like brake linings and fireproof materials.
In an acid environment, hexamethylenetetramine decomposes to formaldehyde and ammonia. This is apparently what happened in the Tone River.
Formaldehyde levels returned to normal late last weekend and water treatment facilities resumed their intake.
Chemical plant photo via Shutterstock