“Don’t drink the water” was the word from Mount Airy officials Friday due to elevated fluoride levels being found in? the city’s supply.
The problem was isolated to the western side of U.S. 52, according to City Manager Barbara Jones, which included Franklin Elementary School, J. Sam Gentry Middle School and Meadowview Middle School.
“We did have some higher (fluoride) levels at the schools,” Jones said. The situation was due to a valve malfunction on a fluoride tank at F.G. Doggett Water Plant in the Toast community.
But Jones explained that once the problem was discovered Friday morning through routine sampling procedures by municipal public works personnel, county school officials were able to shut off water at the schools before lunchtime.
Meanwhile, people at restaurants, institutional and other high-priority entities in the affected area were being advised not to drink the water until the problem was corrected. Fliers were hand-delivered to them as well as some residential customers to provide notification of the fluoride threat.
Fluoride is one of multiple substances typically added to public water supplies. It also is found in toothpaste and vitamins. Though it is effective in preventing cavities, excess levels of fluoride can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, according to Jones, relaying information from Surry health officials.
No such problems had been reported by mid-afternoon Friday, when the city manager said crews were working to monitor the situation and take corrective action. “We are in the process of flushing out the system,” Jones said around 2:15 p.m., and it was hoped the situation would be resolved “within a couple of hours” after that.
Additional sampling was planned later to ensure that the fluoride levels in the water system were back to normal.
In the meantime, until the alert was canceled, people were advised to rely on bottled supplies rather than consuming city water.
Mount Airy officials were providing notifications about the water to the public through its social media networks, including Nixle, and its Web site, in addition to direct contacts with affected parties. Individuals with symptoms were advised to contact health-care providers.
A posting on the city government Web site said customers were to be notified when the alert was lifted and the water was safe to drink. It specifically listed areas under alert west of U.S. 52 as Westlake Drive to U.S. 601 and West Pine Street from U.S. 52 to North Surry High School.
Jones did not know how many water customers were affected in all.