Officials are calling it a disaster narrowly averted when four 55-gallon drums containing 93% sulfuric acid, were mislabeled as “fluoride”, and nearly added to the water supply at the water treatment plant in one Michigan city.

According to the CDC, sulfuric acid is a corrosive substance that destroys your skin, lungs, and teeth – and can be deadly at that concentration.

New Baltimore is a city 35 miles outside of Detroit which is home to some 14,000 residents. In July an alert worker at the city’s water treatment facility noticed a strange reaction when he turned on the pump to release what he thought was fluoride into a day tank, where it would then be added to the water supply.

Chris Hiltunen, superintendent of the water treatment plant, said that when the worker turned on the pump to transfer what should have been fluoride into the day tank,  that “there was a pretty substantial reaction, created some heat, some mist,” and the worker “shut it down and left the room.”

Fox 2 Detroit reported on the incident: Sulfuric acid was nearly added to New Baltimore’s water supply due to a labeling error by the manufacturer.

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The problem was noticed at New Baltimore’s water treatment plant before it entered the water supply. But those in charge of the city’s water say this had the potential to be catastrophic.

The water for the 14,000 people of New Baltimore is treated at this plant. Chemicals like fluoride are added to the water to promote good teeth health – but on July 11th a disaster was averted.

“There are some mistakes that are not allowed to happen and this is a mistake they are not allowed to make,” said Chris Hiltunen, superintendent of the water treatment plant.

For years the Detroit company PVS Chemicals supplied New Baltimore and other cities with blue 55-gallon drums of chemicals to mix into the water.

At the treatment plant, the fluoride is mixed into a day tank before being fed into the water supply. That was supposed to happen that Sunday in July.

“It was the most aggressive thing I had ever seen chemical-wise,” he said.

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Mr. Hiltunen said that after the mistake was discovered, “We had isolated all the valves, shut the tank off, the room was isolated,” after which he then called EGLE.

EGLE – Michigan Department of Great Lakes and Energy, is the state’s department that oversees chemical companies like PVS.

According to the report, EGLE released a statement saying: “To notify water systems that feed treatment chemicals, that they are no longer authorized under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act to order and add chemicals from PVS Nolwood Chemicals, Inc. Therefore, please make arrangements to secure chemicals from alternative suppliers.” 

PVS president David Nicholson responded with his own statement saying, “PVS was never ‘stripped’ of our certification and at no time has it ever been, or is it now, illegal or improper to use our chemicals in any water application.  All statements to the contrary are false.”

The statement went on to inform that “the water supply was never contaminated and the incident was managed, and cleaned up, without further incident.”

PVS also contends that it was an isolated event and found no other mislabeled barrels, “PVS accounted for all the drums involved in the incident and the company says it is certain there are no other mislabeled drums at our site or any other customer site.”

Responding as to how such a catastrophic labeling mistake could’ve been made, PVS mentions the possibility of “understaffing due to Covid.”

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