For years, Española’s water has contained elevated levels of naturally-occurring fluoride.
On March 14, the City of Española posted a public notice on the City’s website about fluoride levels in the water system. It showed test results from three fluoride tests at what is called the Miox tank #4 (where water from various wells are blended) from December 2016, July 2017 and January 2021 that showed concentrations (in milligram per liter) of 2.92, 2.29 and 3.28, respectively.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, drinking water with fluoride concentrated higher than 4 mg/L can increase risk of skeletal fluorosis, a condition characterized by pain and tenderness of the major joints. Concentration above 2 mg/L can result in discoloration and pitting of permanent teeth if consumed by children in the year before teeth emerge. The EPA requires public water systems to take action to keep fluoride concentration below 4 mg/L, but if fluoride concentration is above 2mg/L but below 4 mg/L, it requires public notice “as soon as practical but no later than 12 months from the day the water system learns of the exceedance.”
All of Española’s well’s most recent tests show fluoride concentration above 2 mg/L but lower than 4 mg/L. On Sept. 15, 2021, the Carter Well showed 3 mg/L and the North Industrial Park Well showed 2.53 mg/L. On May 4, 2021, the South Industrial Park Well showed 2.24 mg/L.
The standard of 2 mg/L fluoride concentration is what the EPA calls a secondary maximum contaminant level, or secondary MCL.
Matthew Maez, Communications Director for the New Mexico Environment Department — which enforces EPA standards in water systems throughout the state — wrote in a March 21 email that a public water system could exceed the EPA’s secondary MCL for fluoride indefinitely as long as it meets the 12-month requirement for public notice.
“Secondary MCLs are not enforceable standards,” Maez wrote, “and EPA does not consider the contaminants that have an established Secondary MCL to present a risk to public health at the Secondary MCL levels.”
The City’s March 14 public notice states, “We are continuing to monitor fluoride levels. We will inform you if they exceed the level of 4 mg/L. The City of Española received an exceedance notification from NMED on 3/19/2021.”
Española Water Operations Foreman Bryce Abeyta and Public Works Director Steven Trujillo could not be reached for comment.