Non-toxic chemical turned B.C. river green

When a stretch of the Goldstream River on Vancouver Island unexpectedly turned neon green last week, residents and scientists alike were concerned.

Those who saw the river worried about the affect the contamination might have  on fish and wildlife. They can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Water samples now prove the cause of the water's unusual colour was the presence of fluorescein, a tracing product usually used to find leaks and diagnose medical conditions and is non-toxic.

According to the Victoria Times Colonist, Dan Gilmore, B.C.'s environment ministry spokesman, said "Fluorescein is a synthetic organic compound soluble in water and alcohol. It is widely used as a fluorescent tracer for many applications. The product itself and its products of degradation are not toxic."

A fountain in Langford, B.C. also ran green around the same time as the river, according to The Vancouver Sun.

Many have speculated the two incidents were connected and that both were likely pranks.

Langford Mayor Stew Young said only a small amount of the chemical is necessary to change the colour of a river. "It's a non-polluting chemical that's really bright green. It's probably some idiots with a bit of knowledge," he said.

Witnesses described the river as being so bright that it hurt the eyes. Jane London, who took the photo accompanying this piece, said "It looked a little like antifreeze, but there was way too much. The whole river was flowing green from the bridge right down as far as we could see," she said.

Known for its chum salmon runs, the river is also home to eagles and other sensitive wildlife. According to Environment Ministry staff, the likely concentration of fluorescein was not enough to harm fish or their habitat.

While the chemical is non-toxic, it can cause severe reactions in humans. Side effects can include nausea, hives, and even death from anaphylactic shock.

You can see what the green river looked like in the below video.

To see video of the green fountain in Langford skip ahead to 1:52 in the video below.

(Photo credit: Handout, Jane London)