City on high alert for cat that fell into tank of hazardous chemicals last seen leaving factory

The cat's pawprints. Credit: CNN

A city in Japan is on high alert for a cat that fell into a tank of hazardous chemicals before disappearing into the night.

Residents in Fukuyama, Hiroshima, were warned not to approach the animal, which was last seen in security footage leaving a plating factory on Sunday.

A trail of pawprints discovered by a worker on Monday led to a three-metre-deep vat of hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical that can induce rashes and inflammation if touched or inhaled, officials said.

Neighbourhood have been searched, and it remains unclear whether the animal is alive, a Fukuyama City Hall official said.

Akihiro Kobayashi, manager of the Nomura Mekki Fukuyama factory, said a sheet covering the chemical vat was found partially torn when employees returned to work after the weekend.

Workers have since been on the lookout for the cat, he said.

Factory employees typically wear protective clothing and there have been no health issues have been reported among the staff, Kobayashi added.

Hexavalent chromium, or Chromium-6, is perhaps best known as the carcinogenic chemical featured in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts.

The dramatisation, based on a real-life legal case, focuses on the titular activist’s fight against a utility company accused of polluting the water in a rural California community, causing increased cancer levels and death among its residents.

The substance “is harmful to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Workers may be harmed from exposure to hexavalent chromium,” the CDC says on its website. “The level of exposure depends upon the dose, duration, and work being done.”

Experts cast doubt on whether the cat could survive for long after coming into contact with the substance.

“Even if the fur would protect the skin from immediately getting large burns, cats clean their fur by licking it, moving the corrosive solution into the mouth,” said Linda Schenk, a researcher specialising in chemical risk assessment at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

“My guess is that the cat unfortunately is dead or will be dying shortly, from the chemical burns.”

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