Months after the problem started, Girdwood residents are learning that fluoridation of city drinking water there has been shut off for most of the past year and that it likely will not be fluoridated again until 2024.
Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility manager Mark Corsentino told the Assembly during a committee meeting last week that a chemical dosing pump at the Girdwood water treatment facility failed in March 2021, causing a several-months outage of the fluoridation system.
The utility then purchased a replacement pump and fluoridation resumed in July. That fix lasted for just one month until the utility shut it off because it was “no longer providing consistent and reliable fluoride,” he said.
Corsentino said the system in Girdwood is about 20 years old and needs replacing entirely. Multiple pieces have failed and been replaced over the years, and the utility has plans to engineer a new fluoride system as part of another project to rehabilitate the Girdwood well, but the replacement will take about two more years and won’t be fully complete until 2024, he said.
Girdwood resident Mike Edgington said he is frustrated because the utility hadn’t yet notified the community that fluoride had been turned off long-term. Edgington is co-chair of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors but was speaking in his personal capacity, he said.
Sandy Baker, spokesperson with AWWU, said the system has intermittently worked over the last year “as AWWU has continually made efforts to come up with solutions to get it into reliable working order,” she said.
AWWU did not notify the Girdwood Board of Supervisors over the last year “because we believed the situation would be temporary and the system failures could be resolved easily,” Baker said. “It was only recently determined that our solutions are not working and replacing it as part of the well rehab project is the best option to get it into reliable working order.”
Edgington said he first became aware that fluoride in Girdwood was shut off in the aftermath of an October decision by Mayor Dave Bronson to briefly shut off fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply at the city’s Eklutna treatment plant. City code stipulates that the municipality’s water supply be fluoridated, and the Assembly launched an inquiry into the mayor’s decision to shut it off when the incident became public in December. Some Assembly members have questioned whether the mayor broke city code.
In December, the mayor’s office twice denied that the incident occurred, but within days of denying it, the mayor’s office confirmed it happened, and said Bronson ordered the fluoride to be shut off because of safety concerns from AWWU staff.
In its statements defending the incident, the mayor’s office cited the utility temporarily disabling fluoride systems for maintenance as an example, saying that Bronson did not break city code. Bronson took office in July 2021, months after the problems with fluoride in Girdwood began.
Edgington said he thinks all residents should be told whether fluoride is being added to the water supply. Some people in Girdwood purchase filtration systems for their homes to remove fluoride, while some parents rely on fluoridated water to help prevent cavities in their younger children, Edgington said.
“They weren’t in a position to add supplements over the last year and potentially over the next couple of years, if the system isn’t brought back on,” Edgington said. “So I would say it’s a significant failure on behalf of the utility to not inform the community of what they’re doing. I’m very concerned by that.”
Corsentino last week told the Assembly that he plans to meet with the Girdwood Board of Supervisors to make them aware.
“We’re happy to work with the health department (and the municipality) to get the message out further, take feedback. It’s a work in progress,” Corsentino said.
Baker said it is part of the utility’s standard procedure to schedule presentation of information at future meetings and that it tentatively plans to present to the board on March 21.
Fluoride in drinking water is strongly supported by public health experts to safely reduce and control tooth decay and promote oral health, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.