Mystery Solved on Why Venice Canal Turned Bright Green

Authorities know nontoxic chemical fluorescein is the cause; they just don't know who put it in water
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2023 8:41 AM CDT
Updated May 30, 2023 8:29 AM CDT
Famous Venice Canal Didn't Look Too Well This Weekend
Gondolas navigate by the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, as a patch of phosphorescent green liquid spreads on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini)
UPDATE May 30, 2023 8:29 AM CDT

Venice environmental authorities have now pinned down the "what" behind the city's suddenly fluorescent green Grand Canal—they just don't have the "who" yet. Per the Guardian, an analysis of samples showed that the color shift was caused by the presence of fluorescein in the water, a nontoxic chemical used to test wastewater networks and identify leaks. It's not clear how the substance made its way into the canal, but the Regional Agency for the Environment in Venice notes that enough of it was there that it wasn't likely an accident, reports CNN. More testing is underway to determine just how much fluorescein was in the canal. A spokesman for the local police says they're following multiple leads, including that environmental activists dumped the fluorescein into the water.

May 29, 2023 8:41 AM CDT

Visitors to Venice certainly expect a highlight of their trip to be a gondola ride through the Italian city's canals. What they might not expect is neon-green water surrounding their gondola, but that's exactly what took place over the weekend, and local authorities are trying to figure out why. The Guardian reports that a "phosphorescent" patch of green appeared in the city's Grand Canal on Sunday morning, near the Rialto Bridge, which had tourists snapping photos and cops scrambling to place the source.

"The prefect has called an urgent meeting with the police to investigate the origin of the liquid," Luca Zaia, president of the Veneto region, tweeted. A rep for the local prefect tells CNN that water samples have been drawn, surveillance footage reviewed, and interviews with gondoliers and other boat drivers conducted, as no one has yet taken responsibility for the fluorescent-colored infiltration. Although some are wondering if the color change was spurred by algae, others suspect environmental activists, especially as some have been active of late attacking cultural heritage sites in Italy.

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At least one known group that dumped charcoal in the Trevi Fountain last week denies having anything to do with the Venice oddity, telling CNN, "It wasn't us." Both that outlet and the Guardian note the Grand Canal has gone green before, though not in the recent past: In 1968, Argentine artist Nicolas Garcia Uriburu dumped a fluorescent dye in the canal as a PR stunt for ecological awareness. At any rate, Zaia noted on Twitter there was "no danger of pollution" from whatever got into the canal this time around, but that the risk of copycats is "worrying." (More Venice stories.)

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