Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson had the fluoridation of the city’s water turned off for about five hours in October, according to a statement Tuesday from the mayor’s office. City code requires the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply.
Bronson decided to stop the fluoridation while visiting the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility Eklutna Water Treatment Plant on Oct. 1, according to the mayor’s spokesperson Corey Allen Young.
The statement from the mayor’s office, emailed by Young, comes three days after The Alaska Landmine blog, citing anonymous sources, reported that the mayor had interfered with the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water and inappropriately pressured the police chief. On Monday, Young flatly denied that any of the allegations happened.
But the statement sent by him Tuesday said Bronson ordered the fluoride turned off after Anchorage Water and Wastewater staff said the fluoride was harming them. It was not immediately clear what precautions the employees were taking before handling the chemical that’s commonly used in public water sources.
Jon Cecil is the president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, which represents nearly 600 city workers, including some of AWWU’s employees. He said Tuesday he had not heard any complaints about fluoride hurting the union’s members who work at AWWU. The statement from the mayor’s office said fluoride “burned the eyes and throats of staff who handled it.”
“No one has contacted us with any information related to potentially AMEA members being injured on the job at the AWWU water treatment plant,” Cecil said.
A representative of another union that represents some AWWU workers, UA Local 367 Plumbers & Steamfitters, did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday evening.
Cecil said his initial reaction to the mayor’s statement was: “It doesn’t make any sense.”
He said employees are trained to work with fluoride and are supposed to wear special equipment. There are standards on handling fluoride too. Fluoride has been in the city’s water for decades.
“I’d like to know: Were untrained personnel at AWWU dealing with fluoride, if they were, why and who authorized that?” he said.
He said workplace injuries should be documented by state and federal agencies.
According to Young, the mayor’s team was told by AWWU staff that turning off fluoride in the city’s water wasn’t against municipal charter. Bronson decided to stop fluoridation on Oct. 1 and said he would investigate the concerns raised by workers with the Assembly, according to the statement from the mayor’s office.
Young later called to clarify that AWWU Manager Mark Corsentino asked Bronson to have the fluoride turned off.
Later that day on Oct. 1, according to the statement, the mayor’s office “determined Municipal Code requires the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply.” It said the mayor’s office “immediately informed AWWU leadership to resume fluoridation of the Muni’s water.”
In all, fluoridation was halted for about five hours, according to the statement. Corsentino said in the statement that testing showed there was no “disruption or material change to the fluoride in our water during October 1.”
In an interview Tuesday evening, former AWWU manager Brett Jokela said he was surprised that employees would have complained about fluoride.
“I suppose that’s possible,” he said by phone. “That never came up when I was at the utility, though, not from an employee contact point of view.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, Young doubled down on his denial of the other allegations posted by The Landmine, including one that Bronson had ordered the police chief to enter a hospital to interfere with a COVID-19 patient’s care.
“That did not happen,” he said. “Mayor Bronson did not direct Chief McCoy to send his officers or anybody from APD inside that hospital.”
But the mayor’s office acknowledged there was a discussion with Anchorage police and other officials about sending officers into a hospital after a state senator contacted the mayor. Young said he was not part of the conversation and declined to say who was in the meeting.
“Everything was properly vetted through the right channels, the right information was sussed out people made the right calls, the right decisions. No action was taken with regards to APD going into Providence or St. Elias,” said Hans Rodvik, another Bronson spokesperson.
Chris Constant, vice chair of the Anchorage Assembly, said in a written statement that the news of Bronson turning off the fluoridation showed that “it’s clear the initial denial by the administration is inaccurate” and said the Assembly would continue its inquiry.
“We have now begun the fact finding process and I share the Mayor’s desire to investigate these concerns,” he wrote. “This process will unfold over the next weeks and months and will be thorough and comprehensive.”
This story has been updated.
Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon and Wesley Early contributed to reporting on this story.
*Original article online at https://www.alaskapublic.org/2021/12/14/anchorage-mayor-turned-off-fluoride-in-city-water-for-about-5-hours/