China river runs red. Be disgusted but don’t panic.

River in China turns red

Earlier this week, the Jian River that runs through the city of Luoyang, Henan province in northern China, turned bloody red.

Local media started receiving panicky phone calls from citizens on Tuesday morning saying that the water of the Jian River near their neighborhood has become blood-like overnight.

The eerie sheen on the river lasted for nearly two days before local government officials managed to track down the source of pollutant: an illegal workshop dumping red dye into the city’s storm water pipe network connecting the river.

Credit: io9

Io9 used this title for their article: Chemical dumping turns Chinese waterway into river of blood. I’m afraid this may have the effect of making people think it actually is blood tainting the water. It turns out that a factory was rinsing red plastic bags for recycling which caused unintended consequences. See this video report that makes things look rather gruesome indeed.

This occasionally happens and usually results from natural causes (like mud or rock dust that turn the waterways murky or opaque) but also from releases from containment ponds for coal fines (turn it black). Also, some groundwater tracer dyes can result in bright red-pink or fluorescent green water showing up in a unexpected place (almost exclusively used in limestone areas). Or a chemical or environmental change can make a stream seem more colorful than usually from things like mine drainage or algae growth. Do not be alarmed.

Effects of a tracer study using rhodamine dye.

Chicago River dyed for St. Patrick's day. Photo from