Dec 11, 2005 — Officials are investigating a leak at a Pennsylvania-American Water Co. treatment plant that sent an estimated 600 gallons of fluoride into the system on Saturday, prompting a public warning for customers not to drink the water.
The leak raised the fluoride levels in the area from one part per million to 24 parts per million, said Sandra Roderick, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
York County’s Office of Emergency Management warned residents of Fairview and Newberry townships in northern York County, and several municipalities in Cumberland County, that the fluoride levels were elevated.
Officials said the water should not be used for drinking or cooking or given to pets. The office approved water use for washing dishes, bathing and flushing the toilet.
Representatives of the water company could not be reached for comment.
Tom Gallagher, owner and manager of KClinger’s Publik House in Newberry Township, said he learned of the warning at about 5:30 p.m. from people at a bar in New Cumberland.
Mike Smith, owner of Carnahans Restaurant and Music Club in New Cumberland, asked an employee who used to work at KClinger’s to spread the word. Smith said he had received a public information flier from a fireman.
Gallagher was concerned because no one knocked on his door with information.
“I don’t know how many people we served before we found out,” he said.
Roderick said the investigation began when a plant operator noticed a liquid leaking at the treatment facility at about 9:30 a.m. and called officials.
A hazardous materials unit, complete with suits and respirators, was called because, in large quantities, fluoride can be harmful when inhaled. It also poses a fire or explosive hazard.
A series of sample tests from customers showed elevated levels.
The fluoride was not discharged into any waterways, Roderick said.
Officials spread the word about the leak, in part, through the media.
Roderick said no studies show any dangerous short-term effects of elevated fluoride levels. Long-term exposure can cause mottling of teeth, which means the chemical will erode the enamel and cause spotting.
Once KClinger’s staff heard the news, they emptied the ice bins and brought in bagged ice, bottled soda and water.
It cost Gallagher a couple of hundred dollars for the supplies, and the water company gave him an address to send receipts to possibly recoup the cost.
The warning didn’t keep people from coming to the restaurant. Gallagher characterized the number of customers as normal for a Saturday night.
Among them were Michael Bowser and his wife, Carol, who live in Lower Allen Township in Cumberland County. They learned of the leak from Michael Bowser’s father, who called Saturday evening to ask if they had eaten yet.
They hadn’t because they were going out to KClinger’s with Eric Lytle and his roommate, Wendy Carroll, both visiting from Phoenixville in Chester County.
Finding out about the leak from a relative worried Carol Bowser; she was concerned that “there doesn’t seem to be any community warning system for this type of thing.”
Lytle added, “What happens if you don’t watch TV?”
Joe Hanna, a Fairview Township resident who also was at KClinger’s, said he didn’t know about the leak until late Saturday evening because he hadn’t seen news reports.
He said he’ll avoid the tap water, and he should be all right because he has a half-gallon of water in the refrigerator.
Roderick said DEP agents will continue to monitor the levels. She projected the fluoride would be flushed from the system by the end of the weekend.
As of Saturday night, officials had not been able to get inside the water company’s building to investigate how the leak started.
“It appears to be an accident,” she said. “It doesn’t appear to be deliberate. I’m not sure we would do anything (to reprimand the company). There’s always a possibility.”
As of 10:30 p.m. Saturday, the water advisory remained in effect.
At a glance
York County’s Office of Emergency Management suggests residents monitor local television and radio stations for updates on the water problem.
For details, call the Pennsylvania-American Water Co., 800-717-7292.
Affected areas: In York County, Fairview and Newberry townships. In Cumberland County, the boroughs of Camp Hill, Lemoyne, New Cumberland, New Kingstown, Shiremanstown, Wormleysburg and West Fairview; and the townships of East Pennsboro, Enola, Hampden, Lower Allen, Upper Allen and Silver Spring.