SMITHFIELD- It will cost the town initially about $2 million and an additional $900,000 in the next 10 years to lower high fluoride in its drinking water, a consultant told Smithfield officials during the town’s water and sewer committee meeting Monday.
“It’s better than what we’ve heard before,” said Mark Norris of Smithfield’s Public Utilities Department.
Another consultant had priced a similar fluoride filter system last year between $3 million and $5 million. Fluoride is a naturally occurring salt-like substance usually added to water to prevent tooth decay. Too much fluoride, however, can stain teeth and make bones brittle.
Last summer, two town wells repeatedly tested above the Health Department’s fluoride standard. A third well tested above the norm in March, which shifted Smithfield’s entire water system out of compliance this year, officials said.
Recent tests also confirmed elevated sodium and salt levels, which differently from fluoride do not carry similar health risks, Norris said.
Permits will add another $16,000 to the cost of the filtering system in its first year of operation and $4,000 every following year. The consultant, Buchart Horn Inc. of Baltimore, based its preliminary estimate on Smithfield’s average water usage of 800,000 gallons per day and 1.7 million gallons during peak seasons such as a dry summer. It also considered a 2.5 percent annual growth rate for the next 10 years.
Different from Smithfield, Isle of Wight hopes to dodge the hefty price tag for a filtering system. The county is now spending $1.3 million for test wells to find better drinking water. For Smithfield this wasn’t an option, because of “the quantity of water required by the town and the unsuccessful history of regional efforts to find low fluoride sources,” according to Buchart’s engineering report.
Smithfield has to sign a consent order with the health department this year that outlines how it plans to reduce its fluoride, or it won’t be able to issue building permits for new subdivisions with more than 15 houses.
“This will get us back to business as normal,” Town Councilman Dan Smith said.
The town will increase its water and sewer rates this year to pay for the fluoride expense. Buchart Horn will return to town council with a refined estimate in the next four to six weeks.
“Two million dollars is about a third of our entire budget,” council member Wendy Dean said. ” I still can’t get comfortable with this.”