A cat fell into a vat of toxic chemicals and walked away. A city is on alert.

A cat scampered away from a metal plating factory on a cold, clear night in Fukuyama, southwestern Japan — an otherwise unremarkable scene, but one that would soon prompt public health warnings across the city.

Hours after surveillance footage captured the feline leaving the Nomura Plating factory in Fukuyama city on Sunday night, a worker discovered a trail of what appeared to be yellow-brown paw prints leading away from a container of a toxic — and potentially deadly — substance, according to local media.

Officials in the city, in Hiroshima prefecture, believe the cat fell into the container before escaping the factory, Japanese media reported. The company alerted local authorities after watching the footage of the cat leaving, Japanese media reports said.

The 11-foot-tall vat of metal plating solution contained hexavalent chromium, according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The chemical, also known as chromium 6, can cause rashes and irritation or damage to the eyes and skin, as well as lung cancer if breathed in, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s also the chemical at the center of a groundwater contamination incident in a small town in California in the movie “Erin Brockovich,” which starred Julia Roberts and was based on a true story.

Workers at the plant have to wear masks and rubber gloves when working with the substance, Asahi Shimbun reported.

Swallowing the substance can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea and heart failure, as well as damage to the gut, liver and kidneys, and even death, according to Britain’s Health Security Agency. It was not clear whether the cat ingested the substance.

The Washington Post was unable to reach the Nomura Mekki Fukuyama factory or Fukuyama city officials outside of working hours Wednesday.

The cat’s whereabouts and fate remain unknown. The city’s environmental team has said the cat may be dead but asked that “any sightings of a cat with abnormalities should be reported to city officials or the police, and people should absolutely not touch it,” Asahi Shimbun reported.

Authorities advised local primary schools to tell students not to approach any cats that appeared ill or abnormal, according to Nippon TV News.

A Tokyo temple’s curse of the lucky cats

Social media users in Japan — a nation of cat lovers, where cat cafes and lucky cat figurines are popular — were quick to sympathize with the feline and blamed the company for the incident.

“I can’t understand why the cat is being reported as a vermin, a wild animal, the bad one here,” one social media user wrote, blaming the company instead.

“The cat that fell in the chemical tank must be so uncomfortable and in so much pain right now,” said another. “Covered in sticky liquid, it’s probably trying very hard to clean itself by licking the toxic substance and getting more and more unwell.”

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