SEA ISLE CITY – In a 1990 referendum, Sea Isle residents voted to add fluoride to the city’s water supply, but they learned recently that the mechanism that adds the chemical to the water has not worked for at least two years.
Engineer John Feairheller told the City Commission on Tuesday that the costs for restarting the program could reach $305,000 because the chemicals must be stored in secure, locked areas. Fixing the mechanical problems may cost about $50,000, and the remainder of the money would be used for construction of the facilities to house the chemicals.
“It is a hazardous substance. We can’t just cover it up with a tarp and put it under the water tower like we used to,” Feairheller said.
While security issues and their enforcement were not much of an issue when the city adopted its ordinance in 1991, they become more important – and more strictly enforced – following terrorist attacks on the country, he said.
The state’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water must inspect the sites. Fluoride, which is diluted in public drinking supplies, is toxic in condensed form, he said.
“To stop the fluoride, you really don’t need a permit. To restart it, you do,” he said.
City Commission balked at spending $305,000 on the construction of the storage locations, and Mayor Len Desiderio said the city should find existing locations and just pay to fix the broken pump.
“Why can’t we just fix the part that’s broken and keep doing what we’ve been doing?” Desiderio asked at the meeting. “For $305,000 we can hire somebody just to be the fluoride king.”
Commissioner Angela Dalrymple, who is also the director of Public Works, said the mechanism that releases fluoride into the water supply broke about two years ago.
“It’s one of those things, when quite a few other things happened at the same time and it got put on the back burner,” she said. It was not deliberately forgotten, she said.
Dalrymple said the commissioners were informed of the malfunction, but Desiderio said he heard nothing about it until recently. Commissioner James Iannone was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Resident Bob Lynch first discovered the lack of fluoride in the water about a year ago after his dentist told him of a rumor that the treatments had stopped. He looked into it and found the rumor to be true, he said.
. Because the public was not informed of the stoppage, people who may have relied on fluoride for the health of their teeth were let down, Lynch said.
Once the residents voted for the referendum and the fluoride treatment became local law, it was the responsibility of the city and the Department of Public Works to supply the treatment and maintain the machinery, he said.
If something broke, it should have been addressed at the time, he said.