A chemical reaction caused a storage tank to burst Wednesday at the Hanahan Water Treatment Plant, leaving 350,000 area residents without fluoride in their drinking water for at least the next few weeks, a Charleston Commissioners of Public Works official said.
The incident happened after a worker accidentally put the wrong chemical in the fluoride tank, said John Cook, CPW’s director of engineering.
Things happened quickly after that, he said. “They reacted; it released a large amount of heat; the fiberglass essentially melted; the gas flowed; it just burst,” Cook said.
The resulting 20,000-gallon acidic mess was not released into the water supply, and is being held in a pool where it will be treated during the next few weeks, he said.
No one was hurt during the incident.
Cook said there is no reason for anyone served by CPW water to avoid using the water, including for drinking.
The cost to treat the spill and install a new tank has yet to be determined, he said.
However, it will probably run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The worker who caused the spill will face disciplinary action, Cook said.
He said it had not yet been determined what the punishment would be or whether the worker would be fired.
The CPW water system serves the cities of Charleston, North Charleston, John’s Island, Seabrook and Kiawah islands, Sullivan’s Island, the Berkeley County town of Hanahan and parts of Mount Pleasant and the Isle of Palms.
But residents don’t need to worry about the loss of fluoride, dental experts say.
Dr. Richard DeChamplain, dean of the Medical University of South Carolina’s dental school, said going without fluoride for a short time won’t send Lowcountry residents scurrying to their dentists.
“I don’t think it should have any effect at all,” he said. “Going without whatever they add for one month will have very little effect.”
Fluoride, which helps prevent cavities, particularly in children, builds up during months and years of exposure.
Also, fluoride naturally shows up in the area’s water supply, DeChamplain said.
Going without fluoride for more than a year might begin to have an impact on residents’ teeth, he said.
Cook said he isn’t sure yet exactly when fluoride will be restored but predicted it would not be much longer than a month.