Accidental contamination of a German town's drinking water with sodium hydroxide

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2015 May;218(3):366-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2015.01.006. Epub 2015 Feb 3.


Case report of a very serious drinking water incident putting up to 50,000 inhabitants of a town near Bonn in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany at risk. A concentrated solution of highly alkaline water by sodium hydroxide was accidentally washed into the town's drinking water at a pumping station and increased the pH-value of the water to 12. Residents who came into contact with the contaminated water immediately had a toxic reaction. The incident was detected by complaints from customers and after that was stopped within several hours. The pipes were flushed and the customers were warned not to use the water till the all clear. After this immediate management there was an investigation and the cause of the incident was detected as an accidental release of accumulated sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution. The lack of a network alarm system and the automatic cut-off mechanisms as deficiencies in the design of the station were rectified by the water company immediately after the incident.

Keywords: Alarm system; Contamination; Drinking water; Skin; Sodium hydroxide; Toxic reaction.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents*
  • Drinking Water / chemistry*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Sanitary Engineering
  • Sodium Hydroxide / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollution*
  • Water Supply*


  • Drinking Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Sodium Hydroxide