City officials have expressed concerns that fluoridation chemicals the Carroll Boone Water District (CBWD) started adding in August 2015 could increase levels of lead to unsafe levels. Fluoridation chemicals not only contain lead, but are corrosive. Combined with chloramines used to disinfect water, which are also corrosive, the result could be increased lead leaching from the city’s aging water distribution system.
Eureka Springs Public Works Director Dwayne Allen said the recent situation where thousands of children have permanent neurological damage from drinking lead contaminated water in Flint, Mich., has drawn increased attention to concerns about lead in drinking water.
“It has been a major national news story,” Allen said. “The situation in Flint is bringing problems with lead back into the public consciousness. The American Water Works Association is looking at this again and asking if we have adequate protections in place.” The AWWA estimates that 6.5 million homes in the U.S. are served by older lead water lines.
When Allen started as Public Works Director in 2008, the city was under a mandate to reduce high lead levels in drinking water in some parts of town, and for two years the city dug up and replaced older lines. That reduced lead to below action levels, but Allen is concerned that increased corrosiveness from fluoridation chemicals could be increasing the amount of leaching of lead and copper.
After opposing fluoridation for more than 30 years, Eureka Springs and other customers of CBWD, including Berryville, Green Forest and Harrison, started receiving fluoridated water five months ago. Although CBWD heard from many citizens opposed to fluoridation, the board said it had no choice but to comply with a state mandate for fluoridation. Water districts refusing to fluoridate have been threatened with fines.
Allen said prior to fluoridation, water samples were taken in Eureka Springs and sent to the state laboratory, but there was such a backlog testing results weren’t received until November. He said those results showed the city was already close to exceeding lead limits. “Our 2015 ninetieth percentile for lead was 0.011 mg/l and 0.24 mg/l for copper, which does not leave much leeway for increased lead leaching,” he said.
Water testing results post-fluoridation aren’t yet available. Rather than waiting another 90 days to get results of water testing after fluoridation to see if lead levels have increased, Public Works plans in-house testing. “I will have some results the first of February,” he said. “We want to make sure our in-house tests are accurate and cannot be dismissed. My five-year plan includes more lead line removal as well as asbestos cement removal.”
Allen said if testing indicates lead levels in drinking water have increased, it puts the city in a difficult situation.
“If lead comes back high, it is on us to deal with it,” he said. “If our levels are proven to be increasing, I would request aid from the state and CBWD. But the high costs of pipe replacement would in all probability have to be covered by Eureka Springs.”
There is also an issue with CBWD using a disinfectant, chloramine, which lasts longer than chlorine and is needed because of the long pipeline to Harrison. Chloramines combined with fluoridation chemicals were found to be leaching lead from pipes in Washington, D.C., leaving thousands of children with high levels of lead. Allen said because Eureka Springs is on the front end of CBWD’s waterlines that extend all the way to Harrison, the city receives higher levels of chloramines, which dissipate as the water travels farther down the line.
“Washington changed to chloramines at the same time they added fluoridation, and the concern here is we were already on chloramines,” Allen said. “We are kind of a test animal here when chloramines are already in the system and then you throw in fluoride. What happens with these 100-year-old lead lines? You could get a spike in a hurry. But at this point we do not have any test results that raise immediate concerns with the public water system.”
Allen said the city would know soon whether beginning fluoridation has increased lead leaching. “We are not a certified lab, but this will give us an idea of how much we are getting here. We will also be measuring fluoride content to see if they are keeping it towards the low end.”
The problem is not confined to the city’s water pipes, but also service lines going into people’s homes and businesses in older parts of town. Allen said people aren’t always aware they have lead pipes, and at times may decide against spending what it costs to replace the lines.
In some cities where corrosion has been a concern, phosphates have been added to reduce corrosion. But Allen said that would cause problems with the city’s wastewater treatment plant because it is very expensive to remove phosphates to the level required by regulatory officials. Also, adding phosphates to reduce corrosiveness isn’t necessarily an instant fix. Allen said the corrosion problems could continue for an indefinite period of time.
“It is hard to promote our water with the addition of these fluoridation chemicals,” Allen said. “We don’t want to cause panic, but there are reasons for concern. Hopefully, we can get the fluoride mandate removed by the legislature when they get a regular session in 2017. But even if we get back to local choice, the fight won’t be over because the CBWD has more than a million dollars it would have to pay back to the Delta Dental Foundation if it stops fluoridation. Hopefully we can convince them to take it out even if we have to pay to do that.”
In addition to lead, Allen said arsenic found in fluoridation chemicals is also a concern. There is a cancer cluster in Northwest Arkansas believed to be related to arsenic in drinking water. “Ideally, you wouldn’t want any lead or arsenic in your drinking water,” he said.
Any customers who have plumbing dating before the 1950s or live in our original neighborhoods should contact Public Works with concerns or questions.
Eureka Springs voted against fluoridation twice before the state mandate overruled voters. In 2015 alderman David Mitchell went to an Arkansas Board of Health meeting in Little Rock and delivered a number of studies linking fluoridation chemicals to dental fluorosis, decreased IQ in children, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and thyroid problems in adults. Of particular concerns to the city was a report published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health that said contaminant levels of lead, arsenic, barium and aluminum in fluoride additives can vary widely from batch to batch. “Such contaminant content creates a regulatory blind spot that jeopardizes any safe use of fluoride additives.”
Mitchell said the city never received a response to its concerns.