The Jefferson Parish Water Department is finding it increasingly expensive to buy the fluoride it has long added to the parish drinking water supply, a ripple effect of a nation-wide shortage of the chemical designed to promote healthy teeth.

“We haven’t had problems getting it,” department director Randy Schuler said. “But in the last couple of invoices, the contractor has tried to add on a surcharge. They’re claiming it has to do with availability.”

Closure of fluoride-manufacturing facilities and rising transportation costs are pushing up the price of the chemical and making it more difficult to come by, said Sean Nolan, an engineer with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals who said about 34 water systems in the state add fluoride to drinking water as a means of preventing tooth decay.

Jefferson, which started its fluoridation program in 1983, Schuler said, is not the first system to deal with fluoride supply problems. Some communities have been forced by dwindling supplies and rising costs to suspend programs altogether.

Jefferson officials canceled their fluoride contract with Jacksonville, Fla.-based Lucier Chemical Industries when the company notified the water department it would be more than doubling its prices. The water department’s $100,000 contract with the company took effect in January 2007 and expires in December, Schuler said. The parish council voted last week to issue a new request for proposals from companies interested in Jefferson’s fluoride contract.

In the meantime, he said, the parish has enough of the additive on hand to continue to fluoridate the water supply.

Legally, “we can’t do an increase without rebidding it,” Schuler said. But even after the contract is reopened, Schuler expects the parish will pay more for its fluoride. “When we rebid it,” he said, “we’re gonna have a 110 percent increase.”