Although no one has said why Berlin’s new park is closed temporarily — or how a relatively small patch of the hazardous chemical sodium hydroxide turned up between the park’s two ponds — a reasonable conclusion would be that the town took the action out of an abundance of caution.
Although chances are the spill area wouldn’t spread, unless it rained or water was applied mistakenly, sodium hydroxide is a particularly nasty, highly corrosive compound that can burn the skin and cause more serious problems internally if it’s inhaled or ingested.
Yet, its use is common in all sorts of manufacturing processes, wastewater treatment and even food preparation.
We know it by its more common names, caustic soda or lye.
And it’s lye, believe it or not, that gives bagels and pretzels that even brown crust, turns dried corn into hominy (which is ground into grits), and used by the Japanese to make ramen noodles.
Because lye is such a corrosive alkali — sodium hydroxide is also used to make Drano — it dissolves the outer layer of protein on baked goods such as bagels when they are boiled in a lye-water solution and causes them to brown evenly.
Sodium hydroxide also can be found in the solution poultry processors use to scald chickens to reduce salmonella. Maybe the park’s former owner, Tyson, used it and maybe it didn’t.
There’s no way to know whether this substance existed somewhere on the property or was inadvertently deposited there. Either way, the environmental studies conducted before the town bought the land weren’t looking for it when they tested the pond areas for other more troubling chemicals and toxic bacteria such as e. coli.
This spill, or whatever it was, isn’t good, but neither does it spell the end of the world for the park. It’s been dealt with, the public is being protected while an investigation continues, and then life at the park will go on.