Abilene?s fluoridation measure passed in the middle of a winter storm, but it?ll probably be in the summer heat before the city begins adding the chemical to the water supply.
City water director Dwayne Hargesheimer said Tuesday it will take about seven months for the city to acquire state funding to pay for the fluoridation equipment and to install the system. The city will then pump minute amounts of fluoride into Abilene?s drinking water in an effort to fight tooth decay.
The process officially begins Friday morning when the Abilene City Council will accept the election results. Afterward, city administrators can begin working with the state?s fluoridation project to buy the pumps, tanks and materials necessary for the system.
Officials from the state?s fluoridation project have already visited Abilene to see what the city?s water treatment plants will need to raise the fluoride level in Abilene?s water. The city?s water supply has a naturally occurring fluoride level of 0.3 parts per million; health agencies recommend a level of 0.7 parts per million.
Children and low-income families that can?t afford dental care will benefit the most, proponents say.
The state will eventually save $58,266 per year on dental care for indigent families, an average of $15 per participant, according to the Texas Department of Health.
The city?s cost of fluoridating water will be $20,000 a year ? paid for from the water department?s operating budget. Water customers probably will not notice a change in their bills. The state estimates the cost of fluoridation at 26 cents per person per year.
Matthew Scott, director of the Texas Drinking Water Fluoridation Project, said the state?s health department has $154,900 available to equip the city?s water treatment plants. The money should cover all installation costs.
Water fluoridation equipment consists primarily of a system of small pumps, fluoridation tanks and monitors. Hargesheimer said the equipment?s design makes accidentally pumping too much fluoride into the system an impossibility.
?If something goes wrong with the equipment, it shuts down; it doesn?t keep pumping,? he said. ?We won?t have overfeeds, but we could have underfeeds.?
Voters approved fluoridation of the water supply Tuesday by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. The decision was a reversal of a 1964 vote that outlawed fluoride from the water supply and inflamed passions.
A similar measure in San Antonio passed with little more than 52 percent approval. Abilene and San Antonio were the largest Texas towns not to fluoridate their drinking water. Texarkana and San Angelo have inherited that mantle.
Scott said he might soon add Odessa to the list. The city?s naturally occurring fluoride level might have dropped to less than 0.7 ppm after it started using water from O.H. Ivie Reservoir instead of underground water. Groundwater usually has higher levels of naturally occurring fluoride than water in lakes and rivers.
In Abilene, Dr. Joe Kethley, a dentist and member of Abilenians for Better Dental Health, a pro-fluoride group of health professionals, said that barring another controversy, most people won?t notice when the fluoride is added next summer.
?Right now, we feel like our job is done,? he said.