When Eureka Springs alderman David Mitchell attended an Arkansas Dept. of Health (ADH) meeting in April to discuss the city’s concerns about the mandate to add fluoride to drinking water, he cited state law that fluoridation opponents insist prohibits adding lead to drinking water. Mitchell provided the board with documentation of testing done on fluoridation chemicals sold by Prayon, the Belgian company providing fluoride to Carroll Boone Water District, showing lead, arsenic, barium and other pollutants.

State law for “Approved Chemicals, Materials, Equipment, and Processes” says all products are required to be lead free as determined through Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

As of June 29, neither Mitchell nor the city had received response from his presentation. But in response to an email, Jeffrey Stone, P.E., director of engineering for ADH, said that law only pertains to plumbing fixtures such as pipes, not fluoridation chemicals.

“The ‘lead free’ citation you provided refers to setting maximum lead content of components of water systems including brass and bronze components such as water meters, valves, etc.,” Stone, who heads the ADH efforts to force water districts follow state mandate, wrote. “A reading of that law would be informative.”

That section of the Safe Drinking Water Act does only deal with water system components, not fluoridation chemicals.

Stone also directed the Eureka Springs Independent to a fact sheet on fluoridation chemicals provided by the National Sanitation Foundation. Drinking water additives are not regulated by the federal government. NSF is a non-government organization that says on its website it certifies millions of products. NSF said manufacturers of fluoridation chemicals are inspected and products tested once per year.

The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health published that contaminant levels of lead, arsenic, barium and aluminum in fluoride additives could vary widely from batch to batch. The study concluded, “Such contaminant content creates a regulatory blind spot that jeopardizes any safe use of fluoride additives.”

In addition to fluoridation chemicals that contain lead, Eureka Springs has a lot of older plumbing pipes and fixtures that may contain lead. Mitchell, who only last year found a section of lead pipe at his home that he replaced, said there is concern about fluoridation chemicals leaching lead out of the pipes since the chemicals are very acidic. Mitchell said the city is planning to do lead testing several places in town to determine if lead levels increase after fluoridation begins July 15.

Crystal Harvey, a resident of Hot Springs who has been active opposing mandate fluoride in Arkansas for 25 years, said it makes no sense to add lead to drinking water.

“I say the water operators are violating federal law and ADH is telling them that it’s okay and the product is safe,” Harvey said. “The Clean Water Act prohibits anyone from discharging pollutants, including lead, through a ‘point source’ into a water of the United States unless they have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

“NPDES permits contain limits on what you can discharge, monitoring and reporting requirements, and other provisions to ensure that the discharge does not hurt water quality or people’s health. When the water operator puts the lead-contaminated fluoridation chemical in the water, is it considered discharging through a ‘point source’ according to their definition? I say yes. Do water operators have a NPDES permit to dump lead in the water? No.

“I’m not picking on water operators, but they are discharging lead in already treated drinking water,” Harvey said. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse in a court of law. Maybe if enough of them found out they are breaking a federal law, maybe they will refuse to dump it in. I don’t think that the ADH can make them break federal law.”

Whether adding lead to drinking water is legal under the CWA could hinge on the definition of “point source.” The EPA defines a point source as a stationary location or fixed facility from which pollutants are discharged or emitted or any single, identifiable discharge point of pollution, such as a pipe, ditch, or smokestack.