South Blount Utility District officials are drawing criticism for choosing not to fluoridate water at the district’s new treatment plant, scheduled to go online in August.
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials said fluoridation isn’t required in public water systems, and the quality of water being produced at the plant is good.
The new plant uses membrane filtration technology, the first public water treatment plant in East Tennessee to use the method, said TDEC officials.
However, Blount County health officials questioned the decision not to fluoridate.
“I’m perplexed, because this is really turning back the clock,” said Micky Roberts, Blount County Health Department Director.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called fluoridation of community drinking water a major factor in the decline of tooth decay in the past 50 years.
Bob Ramsey, a dentist, Blount County commissioner and member of the county Health Board, is also concerned. He plans to notify the Tennessee Dental Association and the Blount County Dental Society.
“Back in the ’50s and ’60s, this debate was waged nationally by the American Dental Association, the Tennessee Dental Association, local health departments,” Ramsey said.
Fluoridation of public water is not required by the state or federal government, but TDEC does encourage public water systems to consider its use.
The fluoride debate
Isom Lail, South Blount Utility District manager, said he and project coordinator Henry Durant recommended to utility district board members that fluoride not be used in the water.
Fluoride is corrosive and can damage water lines, according to Durant, an engineer for Jordan, Jones and Goulding. It’s also a hazardous material, and Lail wanted to protect the plant’s workers and introduce as few chemicals as possible into the plant environment.
The treatment plant is located 9.2 miles down Calderwood Highway, just north of the Blount-Monroe County line.
Bob Herron, the utility board chairman, said the board supported the recommendation.
“They didn’t think we needed it,” said Herron. “So we didn’t put it in.”
Durant was skeptical about fluoride’s role, when added to public water systems, in decreasing tooth decay.
“There’s questions as to whether it’s beneficial or not,” he said.
Lail cited as basis for the decision the Fluoride Action Network’s list of reasons not to use fluoride.
Fluoride Action Network is an international coalition working to stop use of fluoridation in public water and was formed in 2000. The group’s reasons, found on their Web site, are titled “50 Reasons to Oppose Fluoridation,” by Dr. Paul Cornett, a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University in New York.
Cornett includes references for scientific studies to support his reasoning.
Health Department Director Roberts said he was disappointed that the utility district used the Web site information — one source — as basis for making the decision.
State and national view
The decision to fluoridate is a community’s, said Bill Wells, of TDEC’s Division of Water Supply.
Wells oversees the state’s water fluoridation program. Systems fluoridate when the water doesn’t have the optimum level of fluoride, he said.
TDEC recommends 1 to 1.1 parts per million of fluoride. The state doesn’t have a high amount of naturally occurring fluoride in its water, he said.
Most communities in Tennessee fluoridate their water. Ninety-five percent of people on community water systems are supplied with water containing optimum levels of fluoride, according to state Department of Health officials.
Nationally, that number decreases. The Centers for Disease Control reports that “more than 100 million Americans still do not have access to water that contains enough fluoride to protect their teeth …”
The city of Alcoa is building a water treatment plant that uses membrane filtration technology. The project hasn’t been bid, but the site is being prepared. They plan to continue with fluoridation, according to Kenny Wiggins, Alcoa Public Works director.
South Blount’s new water treatment plant cost $13 million and uses membrane filtration technology, which has porous filters with holes as small as a half a micron.
That’s the size of bacteria, said Durant.
It will treat eight million gallons a day and can be expanded to treat 24 million. Durant expects the plant to meet the district’s needs for many years.
Right now, South Blount customers use four million gallons a day. The plant will draw its water from the Tellico Lake.
Durant gave The Daily Times a tour of the plant two weeks ago.
Water goes through a series of numerous filters; then remaining bacteria and viruses are exposed to ultraviolet light. The light doesn’t kill the microorganisms initially, but it renders them unable to reproduce, and they die, according to Durant.
Water is treated with sodium hydroxide and chlorine.
There’s a lab on-site for chemical analysis as well as testing for microorganisms. Turbidity, pH and chlorine residual tests have been good, according to TDEC officials at the Division of Water Supply in Knoxville.
Construction has gone with only a few “hiccups,” according to Durant, who will stay on as plant manager once it’s complete. The project is within 5 percent of its construction budget.
State environmental officials are investigating a chlorine discharge resulting from a tank disinfection two weeks ago. The discharge killed fish in Four Mile Creek, about 300, reported TDEC officials.
The matter is still under investigation. The tank cleaning was a one-time occurrence, according to Lail.
Steve Roberts, Division of Water Supply at the Knoxville TDEC office, has been to the plant regularly during its construction and said the district is producing good, clean water.
“They’re certainly meeting our standards,” said Roberts. “We don’t expect to have any problems out of them.”