Parsons city commissioners will take up the usually contentious issue of fluoridation of the public water supply during their Monday evening meeting.
The meeting’s agenda includes discussion and possible action on an application for a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials to be used to re-introduce fluoride to the water supply after an absence of about four years.
The city discontinued the decades-long practice of adding fluoride at the water treatment plant in 2013 because of corrosion in piping at the point where fluoride and caustic soda were added. The city later replaced the elbow pipe where the corrosion occurred and continued adding caustic soda, which is necessary, but never re-introduced fluoride, which promotes healthy teeth but is not mandated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
After weeks of discussion and debate, the commission voted unanimously in November 2013 to contract with engineering firm CH2M Hill to create engineering plans to relocate the injection sites for fluoride and caustic soda. The city staff didn’t present the cost estimates of the plan until after a resident mentioned the plan in a January 2016 meeting. City Manager Debbie Lamb said then that there was no specific reason for the delay in discussing the issue, but that the city staff had to work with CH2M Hill to weigh all of the options and come up with data, cost analysis and engineering plans before presenting the information to the commission.
In January 2016 the commission learned that CH2M Hill recommended the fluoride feed be moved to the top of a head tank. The injection pump would need to be maintained by water plant workers, so CH2M Hill suggested that the city add a catwalk leading to the tank for safety. Otherwise, employees would have to climb a ladder to the top of the tank.
While the cost of the fluoride feed system would be about $66,500, the price of the elevated walkway is estimated at $76,000, bringing the total to restart the fluoride program to $142,500.
Derek Clevenger, director of utilities, said the caustic soda injection site eventually needs to be relocated to a point outside of the plant where the water enters the building to avoid future corrosion. That project would cost $51,500.
Because of the cost and other projects with higher priority, the commission never approved the fluoride and caustic soda work. However, recently the city was told by a KDHE official about NACCHO’s grant program. NACCHO offers grants of up to $35,000 for replacement of aging water fluoridation equipment. The deadline for grant applications is March 1. Mayor Tom Shaw previously said the deadline was June 30, but Clevenger said there was some confusion earlier. The deadline to bid out the project is June 30, which Clevenger said is feasible.
A KDHE official inspected the plant and agreed that the walkway should be the top priority because of safety of the workers.
Lamb said during a Thursday work session the estimates provided in 2015 still should be accurate. Clevenger said the estimates actually are probably high.
Lamb said the city staff will recommend that the caustic soda injection system be relocated at a later time, possibly next year.
The commissioners favor the idea of re-introducing fluoride to the water system, especially if a grant could reduce the cost.
“My mind hasn’t changed any. We need to do it, and we need to do it as soon as possible,” Commissioner Bill Hogelin said Thursday.
Commissioners Jeff Perez and Kevin Cruse agreed. Shaw said in a recent meeting that he wants fluoride added back into the water, although he knows the issue may bring a lot of debate.
When commissioners discussed fluoridation in 2013, a group of residents formed Parsons for Pure Water to oppose it, citing information stating that adding fluoride to water is a health risk and also saying adding fluoride results in medicating the public without consent. The group circulated a petition calling for a vote on the issue, but the petition was ruled invalid by Labette County. The group quit vocalizing its opposition and hasn’t been active since the commission halted discussion of the issue.
In another matter…