Gilbert discovers fluoride withheld from water, puts 2 officials on leave

Posted: August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Parker Leavitt– Aug. 23,  2012 09:58 PM The Republic |

Gilbert has put two top administrators on leave and launched an internal  investigation after officials discovered fluoride has been withheld from part of  the town’s water supply for at least 13 months.

Town voters approved fluoridation 12 years ago after a heated debate on the  controversial issue, and the task of adding the cavity-fighting chemical fell to  Public Works Director Lonnie Frost, whose wife, Shelley, had led the opposition  against fluoride.

Frost, along with Water Manager Chris Ochs, are now on paid leave while the  town investigates how and why fluoride was not being added at Gilbert’s North  Water Treatment Plant.

Town Manager Patrick Banger could not immediately say whether it was done  intentionally or by mistake.

“We just want to make it clear that we’re taking it very seriously, but it’s  not a matter of a public-health hazard in that the water was being  overfluoridated,” Banger said. “We weren’t meeting the minimum levels.”

The town has ordered an independent verification of its water system and will  look to get the fluoridation system online as soon as possible, said Dana  Berchman, Gilbert’s communications director.

“This is unacceptable, and we are taking immediate steps to remedy the  situation,” Berchman said.

The town’s municipal code requires the public-works director to ensure  compliance with all laws, regulations and ordinances related to drinking-water quality.  Frost, who has been public-works director for 14 years, declined to comment,  citing the ongoing investigation.

Deputy Town Manager Marc Skocypec first became aware of a possible problem on  Aug. 14, Berchman said. The town conducts regular water testing at the plant and  files an annual water-quality report.

Reports from 2009 and 2010 indicate the fluoride in Gilbert’s water varied  between 0.42 and 1.1 parts per million, well below the maximum allowable level  of 4 ppm. The 2011 report, however, indicates fluoride levels had dropped,  ranging from “not detected” to 0.92 ppm.

Gilbert dentist William Fulcher said a concentration of 1 ppm has  “astronomical benefits for dental health.” He said he would be concerned if  fluoride was being withheld from some residents’ tap water.

“There’s a lot of anti-fluoridation groups out there,” Fulcher said. “For us  as dentists, if you do it, that’s great … and if you don’t, oh well, you’ll  just have more cavities and we’ll do more dental treatment.”

Fluoride is still being added to water at the Santan Vista Water Treatment  Plant in south Gilbert, which is operated through a joint partnership with  Chandler, officials said.

Flouoride apparently had been withheld from the North Water plant beginning  around the time three new Town Council members were elected and sworn in. At  least two have direct ties to the conservative “tea party”  movement.

Tea-party activists have been vocal opponents of municipal-water  fluoridation, and other conservative organizations such as the John Birch  Society have opposed it for decades.

Critics dispute some benefits attributed to fluoride and worry about  potential side effects, such as muscle pain, discolored teeth or bone  damage.

Meanwhile, Councilman Eddie Cook, elected to his first term last spring, has  requested that the Town Council discuss eliminating water fluoridation during  its annual retreat this weekend. That agenda item is unrelated to the  investigation at the North Water Treatment Plant, Banger said.

Despite the claims from fluoride critics, the U.S. Centers for Disease  Control and Prevention has proclaimed it one of the 10 greatest public-health  achievements of the 20th century, and every U.S. surgeon general since the 1950s  has endorsed the practice.

The Town Council first approved fluoridation in 2000, but a resident  referendum forced the issue onto a November ballot. About 54 percent of voters  approved the measure, and fluoridation commenced in 2001.

The disclosure of the Gilbert officials’ actions marks the second time in a  matter of days that water supplies to southeast Valley communities are in the  news. Earlier this week, in an unrelated case, some San Tan Valley area  residents learned that there were high levels of the E. coli bacteria in tap  water supplied by Johnson Utilities.


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