Fluoride Action Network

Fluoridation Accidents: 1972-1981

Fluoride Action Network

Over the years, there have been dozens of accidents involving the equipment used to fluoridate drinking water.  When such accidents occur, acutely toxic levels of fluoride can enter the water, causing widespread food-poisoning type symptoms. The following list of accidents, covering the years 1972 to 1981, was compiled by Martha Bevis in 1981 for the November/December issue of the National Fluoridation News.

To see a list of more recent accidents, click here. 

Jonesboro Elementary School (Maine)
October 6, 1981

Cause of Accident: Equipment and personnel malfunction. Equipment had been shut down due to faulty valve controlling the quantity of fluoride going into the drinking water. A Technician from the Dept. of Human Services told the custodian and principal there was no need to test the fluoride content of the water, that he had turned the unit off. Tests showed 46 times the normal ratio of fluoride in the water.
Results: 57 students, teachers and principal taken to hospital. 38 were administered regurgitants to make them vomit the fluoride, and milk to counteract the poison. Two were admitted to the hospital for several hours for fast heartbeat. Other symptoms were nausea and abdominal pain, and vomiting.On December 1, 1981, Jonesboro citizens voted 43-2 not to reinstate fluoridation at the school, and to charge the Dept. of Human Services with the emergency room bill of $1,137.24.
Source(s): Dept. of Human Services, State of Maine (10/22/81), Bangor Daily News (10/7/81), The Maine Paper (12/14/81), Portland Press Herald (10/8/81), NFN, (July-Oct. 1981)

Potsdam, New York
September 10, 1981

Cause of Accident: The diffuser, a plastic pipe that controls flow of fluoride into the water system broke off, allowing the entire contents of a drum of fluoride, ten times a normal “dose”, into the water supply. The diffuser was found outside the water treatment plant where it had been flushed by backwash.
Results: Village residents were without potable water, and in a state of “water emergency” from 2:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m.
The village administrator said the biggest cost would be overtime pay for Public Works personnel. This would not include cost of investigation by State Health Dept. personnel.
Source(s): Courier-Freeman (8/18/81)

Pendleton, Oregon
June 2-8, 1981

Cause of Accident: Pipe leading from fluoride storage tank broke.
Results: 4,000 gallons of fluoride leaked into ground. Brett McKnight, DEQ environmental engineer stated “From the data gathered from the soil sampling and water samples, there exists a real need for continual monitoring in the areas.” The Umatilla Indian Reservation water also comes from this source.
Source(s): East Oregonian (7/20/81)

Annapolis, Maryland
November 11, 1979

Cause of Accident: Operator failed to close valve of fluoride container; 1,000 gallons of fluoride went into drinking water supply of Anapolis. If the water plant supervisor had realized the toxicity of fluoride and reported how much fluoride had gone into the water, fewer people would have been harmed. (Clinical Toxicology, Vol. 18, No.5, pp. 531-541, 1981). The problem was compounded by health officials failing to report the spill because they did not want to jeopardize the fluoridation program (Baltimore Sun 11/28/79).
Results: Dialysis patients: 1 death, 1 cardiac arrest (resusciated), nausea, hypotension (low blood pressure), chest pain or pressure, diarrhea, itching flushing, vomiting (blood tinged), weakness, dyspnea (breathing difficulty), diaphoresis (profuse sweating), shakiness, localized numbness, abdominal cramping, headache.Others not on dialysis suffered nausea, headache, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and dizziness. For ramifications of fluoride poisoning in existing illnesses, see Clinical Toxicology, 18, (5) 531-541 (1981) and NFN (July-Oct., 1981).Pepsi Cola filed suit for $1.6 million for damage to product; other suits pending.
Sources: Read newspaper articles about this accident“Field Investigations Report”, Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene (3/19/80)Morb. Mort. Weekly Report, Center for Disease Control, 29:No. 12 (3/28/80)

Clinical Toxicology, 18 (5) 531-541) (1981)

NFN (Nov.-Dec 1979)

NFN (July-Oct. 1981)

Island Falls, Maine
May 1979

Cause of Accident: Fluoride machine let extra fluoride into water system while motor head was being changed. “The exact water fluoride level was not ascertained although a water sample at a manufacturing plant was greater than 10 ppm.”
Results: 5 people suffered gastrointestinal illness.Dept. of Human Services advised announcement on radio for public not to drink water.
Source(s): Report given by Island Falls
Water District. Manager (9/21/81)
“Field Investigation Report” (Annapolis) Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, Maryland pg. 28 (3/19/81)

Los Lunas, New Mexico
(Elementary School)
November 17, 1978

Cause of Accident: Faulty electric relay switch caused concentrated fluoride to be pumped into water system without being diluted with non-fluoridated water.
Results: 34 people had acute fluoride poisoning. Symptoms were abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, muscle twitching and excessive salivation.
Source(s): See study discussing this accident

Harbor Springs, Michigan
November 22, 1977

Cause of Accident: A tree cut down by contractor fell on power lines controlling city water system electrical signal lines. The disruption automatically triggered into simultaneous operation three of the city’s four well-water pumps, and the fluoride feeder continued to operate. (it was first thought the problem was an “iron buildup”; iron levels were high due to interaction of the fluoride with the water mains.)
Results: Approximately 189 lbs. of fluoride was accidentally pumped into the city’s water system. Tests at one discharge line showed 1,000 milligrams per liter of fluoride.
Four people experienced nausea or vomiting and weakness. Had it not been an off-season for this resort town and the accident happening after lunch and before afternoon coffee brooks, more could have been poisoned.
Source(s): Jrnl. Am. Water Wrks. 72, 238-243, (4/80)
NFN (Apr-June 1980)
Harbor Light, (12/2-8/81)
Clinical Toxicology, 18 (5) 531-541 (1981)

Marin County, California
October 26 – November 1, 1977

Cause of Accident: Fluoride feeder valve malfunctioned.
Results: Five communities received fluoride above “accepted” level for several days without notice to the public. The Ind. Jrnl. reported the water district staff justified distribution of the overdosed water on the grounds it was a drought year.
Source(s): See article discussing this accident

Syracuse, New York
March 29, 1977

Cause of Accident: 1,200 gallons of fluoride was accidentally pumped into Skaneateles Creek from a ruptured underground fluoride tank.
Results: Within hours of the spill, hundreds of dead fish lined the banks of the creek. 1,900 previously stocked trout assumed dead.
Source(s): NFN (April-June 1977)
Auburn Citizen

Seattle, Washington
May 1976

Accident: Plastic fitting broke in rubber-lined steel tank spilling fluoride on the ground in Cedar River watershed.
Results: 5,000 gallons of fluoride spilled. An earth mound was built around tank to divert spillage from river.
Source(s): NFN (July-Sept. 1976)
Seattle Times (5/23/76)

Lebanon, Pennsylvania
August 20, 1975

Accident: Storage tank holding 6,000 gallons of hydrofluosilicic acid (fluoride) ruptured.
Results: Substantial damage to water plant. Approximately 1,500 gallons went into drains below plant threatening structure. DER (Dept. of Env. Resources) reported fluoride leaked into holding ponds and Swatara Creek killing fish.
Source(s): NFN, (July-Sept. 1975)
Lebanon Daily News

Manly County, North Carolina
April 16, 1974

Accident: Fluoride feeder pump malfunctioned, causing the fluoride solution to be fed into the water system continuously while water pump not operating.
Results: 213 individuals experienced nausea after drinking orange juice mixed with water. 201 students and 7 adults vomited.
Source(s): Morbid. Mort. Weekly Report, Center for Disease Control, 23: 1 (6/1/74)

Northeast Bradford Elementary School
Rome, Pennsylvania
June 6, 1972

Accident: 150 students attending a school picnic vomited after drinking orange juice made with the water.
Results: Blockage of BIF feeder by-pass occurred sending excess fluoride into water system as high as 67 mg./L. DER (Dept. of Env. Resources), Towanda, Pa. Records show fluoride at 48 ppm in water and 230 ppm in coffee.
Source(s): Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene – Field Investigation Repo”, (Annapolis) 35-36 (3-19-80) State of Maryland; M. Duggan (8/20/79 and 12/30/81)

For a list of more recent fluoridation accidents, click here.