CHESAPEAKE — A broken well in Western Branch is forcing the city to deliver water with higher-than-normal levels of fluoride to some residents.
The fluoride-rich water being pumped to some Bowers Hill and Deep Creek neighborhoods won’t pose a health threat, city officials said. But long-term exposure could potentially cause tooth discoloration in children, said Daniel Horne with the Virginia Department of Health’s division of drinking water.
`We’re talking on the order of months or years — it’s not a couple of days’ worth of exposure. It’s not even one month of exposure,” Horne said.
The fluoride concentration coming out of the Western Branch Well No. 1 is 3.77 parts per million, according to the city. Environmental Protection Agency standards call for keeping the levels below 4.0 parts per million. Higher levels for more than six months could cause severe tooth discoloration in children, Horne said.
The city is required to alert the public if fluoride levels rise above 4.0. Public Utilities Director Amar Dwarkanath said he did not expect levels to reach that point, but wanted to inform residents of the situation.
Dr. Nancy M. Welch, director of the city’s Health Department, said the fluoride levels are within the safe range.
“Residents don’t really need to do anything,” Welch said. “Because the fluoride level in city water is adequate, anyone receiving city water should not be taking fluoride supple- ments.”
The higher-fluoride water started flowing through pipes Monday afternoon, after the storage well for treated Northwest River water broke.
The 3-inch pipe that draws out Northwest River water from several hundred feet in the ground is broken in several places, Dwarkanath said.
Contractors are working on the pipe, but have yet to figure out the extent of damage.
The backup well is drawing water from a natural underground aquifer. Residents might notice the soft water is slicker than Northwest River water, Dwarkanath said.
Compounding the problem is that the Northwest River plant is not operating at full capacity, as workers there replace water treatment membranes. More membranes are expected to arrive next week. The membranes are used in the reverse osmosis process, which filters salt out of the water.
The recent drought has caused Northwest River water to be saltier than normal.
“Without fresh rain water, the saltwater from Currituck backs up into the river,” Dwarkanath said.
For more information, call public utilities customer service at 382-6352.