A judge has ruled against the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority’s argument against fluoridation, but it’s now up to the authority’s board to decide if an appeal is forthcoming.
The authority had appealed the Arkansas Department of Health’s mandate that the authority had to follow the provisions of Arkansas Act 197 of 2011, which requires all water systems with 5,000 or more customers to add fluoride to the system.
The ADH denied the appeal, so the authority filed for an appeal in Boone County Circuit Court. Judge Andrew Bailey heard arguments in that case on March 7 and said he would issue a ruling in the near future.
In that ruling issued last week, Bailey recounted the authority’s argument. The authority sells finished water to 18 rural water systems, so it maintains it doesn’t have 5,000 customers. In addition, none of the 18 systems have 5,000 customers so the authority should be exempted from the fluoridation requirement.
In the ruling issued last week, Bailey wrote that the court’s review of administrative agency decisions by a circuit court is limited in scope to whether there is substantial evidence to support the agency’s findings.
The ruling says the court may reverse an agency’s decision if the decision is:
• In violation of constitutional or statutory provisions.
• In excess of the agency’s statutory authority.
• Made upon unlawful procedure.
• Affected by other error or law.
• Not supported by substantial evidence of record.
• Arbitrary, capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion.
“Ozark (a wholesale system) supplies water to retailers (consecutive systems) who then sell and supply the water to over 21,000 consumers,” Bailey wrote in the ruling. “The Court finds that there is substantial evidence to support the Department’s finding that Ozark is subject to the fluoridation law.”
Authority board chairman Andy Anderson had wanted to include arguments before the court that fluoride added to drinking water is ineffective, and in fact a health risk. He maintained that fluoride would cause damage to the authority equipment as well as adding further expense to the finished product.
The authority recently increased water rates to its customers by about 10 percent beginning this calendar year.
The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper reported in February that Sandy City, Utah, had been cited that month for having high levels of lead, copper and fluoride in the city’s drinking water. Residents were advised not to drink the water or use it for cooking until it was confirmed safe.
The newspaper quoted the Utah Department of Environmental Quality as saying an overfeed of fluoride into the water system after a winter storm and related power outage likely caused the high levels of heavy metals.
Anderson said that event made people sick and even damaged some water lines. He thought a lawsuit could easily be filed.
However, the circuit court case focused solely on the administrative appeal, so none of that could be argued.
Anderson said it will be up to the authority board to decide whether to file an appeal of Bailey’s decision, but no other arguments not heard before Judge Bailey would be allowed in the appeal.
Anderson said the board’s regular monthly meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at Valley Springs City Hall.