Texas water systems with high levels of naturally occurring fluoride failed to warn consumers about the hazards of fluoride-contaminated water for years, in clear violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The violations, revealed in a five-month investigation by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), resulted from systematic failures at the local, state, and federal levels, placing Texas children at risk for disfiguring dental fluorosis and other potential harms.
High levels of fluoride in water cause a disfiguring tooth condition called dental fluorosis, also known as “Texas Teeth” due to the high levels of fluoride that have long plagued the Lone Star state. In its advanced forms, fluorosis produces extensive brown/black staining, pitting and crumbling of the enamel. Elevated fluoride levels have been linked to other health effects as well, including learning problems, thyroid disease, and bone fragility.
To protect against disfiguring fluorosis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a “Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level” (SMCL) for fluoride, which requires water systems with more than 2 mg/L of the contaminant to warn consumers that children under nine should not drink the water. However, FAN’s investigation reveals that Texas water systems with more than 2 mg/L fluoride have consistently failed to provide the federally-required warning, dating as far back as 2000.
“Every Texas water system with a fluoride SMCL violation for which we were able to obtain annual water quality reports (19 in all) failed to provide the federally required warning,” states attorney and FAN Executive Director, Michael Connett. “The real culprits, however, are not the local water operators, but the state regulators upon whom the local officials rely when drafting the water quality reports.”
Most annual water quality reports in Texas are prepared by state regulatory officials at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TECQ). “There is no excuse, therefore, for TCEQ to have ever allowed fluoride SMCL violations to go unreported, let alone for so many years,” notes Connett.
In fact, TCEQ specifically told at least one local water operator (Jason Biemer from the city of Kyle) that SMCL notifications are no longer required. Based on TCEQ’s advice, Kyle ceased providing notices for fluoride violations.
The city of Kyle’s experience shows that “TCEQ not only ignored, but actively undermined, the notification requirement for fluoride SMCL violations, which is a key safeguard in the Safe Drinking Water Act for protecting against fluoride harms,” states FAN researcher Doug Cragoe.
FAN’s investigation also revealed a surprising degree of misinformation at the federal level about the requirements for fluoride SMCL violations, with one EPA webpage falsely implying that the fluoride SMCL regulation is completely voluntary, and Outreach Specialists at EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act hotline repeatedly assuring FAN that notifications are not required for SMCL violations.
Fortunately, FAN’s investigation into Texas’s Safe Drinking Water Act violations has already sparked change, with both local and state officials scrambling to correct the glaring and longstanding violations. In April 2016, the TCEQ posted an “update” to its website to remind local officials of the need to include SMCL notifications for fluoride, and in June, TCEQ followed up by calling water systems with high levels of fluoride to directly inform them of the SMCL requirement.
“While we are happy our investigation has sparked vital and necessary changes, these changes will be too little, too late for the children who have already been harmed by the widespread negligence of Texas officials,” concludes Connett.
For FAN’s full report, see: http://www.fluoridealert.