A Potentially Hazardous Cat Puts a Japanese City on Alert

The first signs of an intruder at the metal-plating factory were footprints, ocher-tinged and varying in number of toes. A review of security footage confirmed the security breach, and the authorities quickly issued a public alert.

Be on the lookout, the citizens of Fukuyama, Japan, were warned, for a cat with “abnormalities.”

For the past week, the city has been on watch for the potentially hazardous cat that appears to have fallen into a tank of toxic chemicals at the factory, Nomura Plating Corporation, and then escaped, darting across a darkened factory yard and into the city at large.

Officials have reached out to the City Council, the school board and nurseries to warn them about the possible risk.

Motonari Ibaraki, a representative for Nomura Plating, said that the prints were spotted near the tank by an employee arriving for work Monday morning and that the security video showed the cat fleeing the factory around 9:30 the night before.

The tank holds hexavalent chromium, a reddish-brown solution widely used in plating that has been shown to cause lung cancer in humans if inhaled. Effects of exposure can also include kidney and liver damage, nasal and skin irritation and ulceration, and eye irritation and damage, according to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Workers who handle the chemical take precautions such as using masks and rubber gloves. The cat, the ocher paw prints suggest, was more reckless, so residents in Fukuyama have been warned to be careful should they run across it.

The message is simple, said Satoshi Taki, who works at the Fukuyama City Environment Conservation Division: Do not touch the cat. Call the authorities.

Mr. Ibaraki, the Nomura Plating representative, said that the tank at the factory had been covered with a sheet to prevent mist from rising but that it was found dislodged on Monday morning — presumably because the cat fell in. He said the company would now take measures to deter small animals from entering the plant.

As of Friday morning, the cat had not been seen. Mr. Taki said that, in the end, it may not have survived its experience at the factory.

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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