Fluoride Action Network

Huntingdon fires supervisor at water plant over fluoride accident

Source: Altoona Mirror | June 6th, 2008 | By Cori Bolger

HUNTINGDON — The borough fired its water treatment plant supervisor Thursday for failing to notify the public when the plant recently violated treatment standards.

The state Department of Environmental Protection served the borough two notices of violations that occurred April 21 and May 21. The borough faces fines for the violations.

‘‘We don’t appreciate doing it, but we’re delegated with the responsibility of making sure the water supplies are safe for those who don’t have any control,’’ said Cliff Gray, a DEP water supply specialist.

After a borough investigation, plant supervisor Barry Wilson was fired ‘‘due to his inability to make proper decisions and give proper direction to water treatment plant employees.’’

Wilson of Huntingdon was employed by the borough for 18 years and spent the past two years as plant superintendent.

Efforts to reach Wilson for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Heavy rainfall caused cloudiness in the water, leaving the treatment plant to rise above the accepted level for three hours April 21, DEP officials said.

The plant was shut down immediately when the high levels were detected.

Borough officials failed to issue a boil water notice to customers and report the problem as required by the state.

A boil water notice is required anytime the cloudiness reaches a level where it could affect the filtering process, Gray said.

On May 21, an equipment malfunction in the fluoride feed system emptied a fluoride drum into treated water at the plant. The water then was pumped into the borough water system.

The leak caused fluoride levels to exceed the maximum contaminant level for a two-hour period.

Fluoride, a tooth decay deterrent, can cause tooth discoloration in children younger than 9 if levels get too high. Drinking water containing twice the recommended amount may increase the risk of bone disease.

Fluoride treatment is suspended at the plant until the equipment can be repaired.

‘‘Once borough officials became aware of these two situations, immediate action was taken to determine what happened, how it happened and what steps could be taken to prevent either from occurring again,’’ a written statement issued by the borough read.

The problems have been resolved, and there is no longer a risk of water contamination.

It’s unlikely major problems would arise from exposure in such a short time, Gray said.

Borough officials will meet with the DEP in July to determine the cost of fines.