Melbourne’s water system would have run out of fluoride today, but an emergency purchase — at eight times the usual price — kept the tooth-toughening chemical compound flowing out of taps.
Cocoa had just 10 days of fluoride left, but a new shipment arrived Tuesday that will last for two months.
Brevard County’s two largest water suppliers were among dozens of Florida cities that narrowly averted running out of liquid fluoride this week. Suppliers said the poor quality of phosphate rock from a major mining company made fluoride hard to manufacture. It created a temporary strain on an already taxed fluoride supply, a strain which was exacerbated by the closing of a Fort Meade chemical plant in late 2005.
No Brevard utilities have run out of fluoride, and officials say the temporary price increase won’t affect water bills. But the shortage has made some Florida cities look much harder, sometimes out of state, for a compound usually cheap
“This is a problem all over the place,” said Bob Klaproth, Melbourne’s public works and utilities director. “I’m hoping this is just a one-time blip.”
Melbourne called 19 companies before making a deal to buy 4,500 gallons of fluoride for $12,000. The city usually paid $1,500 for the same amount, Klaproth said.
Melbourne made its emergency order late last week when its supplier, LCI Ltd. of Jacksonville Beach, told the city it couldn’t deliver the usual shipment because of problems with phosphate rock from its supplier, Mosaic Company.
“It’s not about a shortage of rock. This particular issue has to do with the quality of rock they got,” said Dave Messerlie, CEO of LCI. “They’ve switched to another mine, and things should get back to normal.”
Mosaic officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Most fluoride comes from Florida phosphate fertilizer mines in the form of a residue “scrubbed” from their smokestacks.
When U.S. Agri-Chemicals shut down its Fort Meade plant in late 2005, that took about 15 percent of the hydrofluosilicic acid — one of the chemicals used to fluoridate drinking water — off the market.
A nationwide shortage during the past 18 months has been fueled by more utilities, especially in California, choosing to fluorinate their water.
Palm Bay received refills to its fluoride tanks this past fall, and has a few months’ supply left at its two treatment plants, officials said. But running out is not cause for alarm.
“It’s not going to hurt you,” said Scott Linkenhoker, operations manager for Palm Bay Utilities.
The city began injecting the chemical in its water in 2001, after years of heated debate.
Dental associations push for fluoridation to strengthen enamel, especially in elderly populations. Excess fluoride over many years, however, browns and pits teeth. It can also cause a crippling bone disease.
No utilities in Brevard exceed allowable fluoride levels, said Paul Morrison, a manager in the drinking water section for Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Orlando.
“Whenever they put fluoride in the water, they usually have people that are for or against it,” Morrison said.