The county’s water plant west of Delray Beach got good news about strong teeth Tuesday, when its supplier of fluoride said a shipment would arrive there later in the week.
County Administrator Bob Weisman said a shortage of fluoride led the county to halt fluoridation of water west of Delray, after the plant ran out of fluoride.
“I understand right now that we expect to get a shipment later this week,” Weisman said. “If that in fact occurs we will be turning it back on.”
The county’s other four water plants have enough supply for 30 days, Weisman said.
Still, the county, along with the rest of the state, is not in the clear yet. The shortage is statewide and could last for several months, said Dr. Mike Easley, a dentist with the state’s Department of Health.
Easley said there is only one fluoride producer in the state, the Mosaic fertilizer company, which took its fluoride production equipment off line to make repairs. Once that’s completed, he said, Mosaic would need to get its fluoride certified again before it can resume.
“I’ve been led to believe it will be a couple of months before the equipment is repaired and the supply is back to normal,” Easley said, citing information from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Not only is Mosaic the only fluoride producer in the state, he added, it supplies fluoride elsewhere in the country.
“So this is going to not only affect Florida,” he said. “It’s going to affect a lot of states.”
The shortage comes just months after the county nearly halted its use of fluoride over concerns about possible health risks. But Easley dismissed those concerns as unfounded.
Fluoride is produced as a byproduct of phosphate mining. Palm Beach County uses 1,600 tons per year at a cost to the county of about $300,000, said Leisha Price, the county’s Assistant Water Utilities Director.
Each plant has a fluoride storage capacity of about six weeks, she said.
Price said she got information from the county’s supplier, LCI, that a delivery is expected today. She said her office’s purchasing manager has been unsuccessfully looking as far as Indiana for suppliers. Any possibilities were hugely expensive, she said.
“We literally have our hands tied,” Price said.
In an e-mail shared by the City of Melbourne last week, that city’s supplier, Dumont Company, clarified the problem. Ron Cartwright, Dumont’s president, said the shortage began 18 months ago when the largest producer in Florida shut down its phosphate mine.
The one remaining producer, Cartwright said, is having trouble meeting the demand of the several brokers in the state, whose prices have shot up.
“Some brokers have better contracts than others,” Cartwright wrote, “however it is safe to say that no one’s supply is certain.”
Easley said he said he was assured that Mosaic planned to resume fluoride production.
“If the shortage occurs for a few months, it won’t have a long lasting affect,” Easley said. “But if the water system is prevented from fluoridating beyond six months, then we get very concerned, because that could have an impact on oral health.”