FORT SMITH — The city will begin Monday adding fluoride to the water it provides for its 160,000 users in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.
Once the chemical is introduced into the water system at the Lake Fort Smith and the Lee Creek water treatment plants, it will take about 36 hours for the water to reach Fort Smith, Lance McAvoy, the Utilities Department’s deputy director of operations, said Thursday.
McAvoy said it will take two to four weeks for the cavity-fighting chemical to get into the entire distribution system, which includes Van Buren and 13 other clients, mostly in Crawford County, buying water from Fort Smith.
Officials have been working for the past 18 months to purchase and install fluoridation equipment at the two water treatment plants. The project has cost about $2 million, McAvoy said, with most of it being paid for by a grant from the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation.
McAvoy said weeklong tests were run on the new equipment to ensure it will feed the proper amount of fluoride into the water. He said the tests were successful and equipment is running as it should.
A news release from the city said fluoride will be fed into the water system at 0.7 milligram per liter, the level recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide public health benefits while preventing fluorosis of teeth and bones.
Fluorosis is a chronic condition caused by the excessive intake of fluorine compounds, marked by mottling of the teeth and, if severe, calcification of the ligaments.
Weldon Johnson, executive director of the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, said Thursday numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of fluoridated water regarding dental disease. It also has been shown children who have access to fluoridated water and are on Medicaid save states an average of $24 per child annually.
“The Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation has a long-term goal to end dental disease in children,” Johnson said. “Fluoridated water systems are instrumental in achieving Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation’s goal.”
Arkansas Act 197 of 2011 required municipalities of 5,000 or more to fluoridate their water if the funds are available. The Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, which is associated with Sherwood-based Delta Dental of Arkansas, a dental-benefits administrator, agreed to provide that funding.
Johnson provided figures that showed 24 cities have completed fluoridation affecting 316,000 people at a total cost of $3.75 million.
Projects are underway in seven towns that will affect 301,000 people at a cost of $3.5 million, the figures showed. Two projects have not begun but are budgeted to cost $450,000 and affect 30,000 people when completed.
Johnson said when the fluoridation projects began, 67 percent of the people on public water systems in Arkansas had fluoridated water. With the completion of 33 projects Johnson listed, the percentage will increase to 91 percent.