ESCONDIDO – The city has temporarily stopped adding fluoride to its water because of what officials described as minor equipment failure.
The fluoridation system at the city’s water-treatment plant was shut down at 7 a.m. Tuesday, less than 24 hours after it began operating.
City officials said there was no danger to the public and that fluoridation could resume as early as today.
“This is not an uncommon thing to have happen first time out of the chute,” said Glen Peterson, the city’s interim utilities manager. “We find things that are not product-compatible every once in a while and have to make adjustments.”
Fluoride opponents criticized city officials for not making a formal announcement to residents. Word of the failure first circulated by e-mail messages from Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, a San Diego-based anti-fluoride group.
“Given the sensitivity of the situation, even if it was a minor glitch that perhaps didn’t affect people on the water supply, the fact that people weren’t informed gives rise to worry,” said Ed Bennett, an Escondido resident who opposes fluoridation.
Bennett also said some residents are upset that the city gave notice only days before beginning fluoridation Monday. Residents weren’t given enough time to purchase reverse-osmosis systems, which can remove fluoride, he said.
According to city officials, a small piece of metal on a flow meter became corroded and started leaking hydrofluorosilic acid ˆ the chemical the city uses to add fluoride, and the focus of an ongoing lawsuit.
The equipment failure occurred about 3 a.m. Tuesday and prevented the chemical from being added to the water. Gauges showed that the water flowing out of the treatment plant had a fluoride level of 0.3 parts per million ˆ the level it has naturally. With added fluoride, the level should have been 0.8 parts per million, considered optimum for dental health.
Workers shut down the system at 7 a.m. The chemical spill was cleaned up by an outside contractor.
Officials said they were checking with the manufacturer, Fischer & Porter, to determine whether the defective part needs to be replaced.
“We’ve actually repaired the meter by simply removing that part and we could reinstall it and restart the system, but we’re verifying with the manufacturer that the meter is still usable without the part,” said Patrick Thomas, the city’s public works director.
If it needs to be replaced, resumption of fluoridation could take a few days, Thomas said.
Escondido, the first city or water district in San Diego County to fluoridate, approved the process in 2001 to comply with a state mandate for larger cities to begin fluoridation when funds become available. A dental group gave the city a $321,000 grant for equipment.
Seven Escondido residents filed a lawsuit in 2001 in an effort to stop fluoridation. The case has come to focus on whether hydrofluorosilic acid, which contains trace amounts of arsenic and lead, should be used. The lawsuit trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 12.
A lawyer for the seven plaintiffs says the chemical, commonly used by water agencies that fluoridate, can lead to higher incidences of cancer and that the city didn’t look at other options.
“For the city to jump the gun on this thing so soon before the trial ˆ it’s really upset people,” Bennett said. “They’re angry.”