Orange County

Eight months after accident, OWASA to resume use of fluoride in water supply

In February tap water in Chapel Hill-Carrboro was off limits, causing state of emergency

Ed Kerwin, executive director of OWASA explains that a 12-inch water-main break came a day after a fluoride overfeed forced OWASA to start getting water from Durham. That water is going into storage tanks until OWASA was able to fix the broken pip
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Ed Kerwin, executive director of OWASA explains that a 12-inch water-main break came a day after a fluoride overfeed forced OWASA to start getting water from Durham. That water is going into storage tanks until OWASA was able to fix the broken pip

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority will resume fluoridating drinking water Monday, Oct. 9, for Carrboro and Chapel Hill, almost eight months after equipment malfunction and human error resulted in an overfeed of fluoride at the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant in February.

OWASA temporarily ceased fluoridation Feb. 2 after the accident. The over-fluoridated water was fully contained within the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant, according to a statement from OWASA. No drinking water with elevated levels of fluoride entered OWASA's drinking water distribution system. After an independent review of the overfeed event, OWASA purchased new equipment and inproved monitoring of the fluoride feed system. The total cost of the fluoride feed system improvement is $162,000.

Fluoride is added to water systems to prevent tooth decay, and is a longtime practice in the United States. But the February accident prompted protests from some residents who believe fluoride to be harmful. In September, protesters urged the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to prevent OWASA from reintroducing fluoride.

In March, the OWASA board voted 7-1 to reintroduce the chemical in late September once equipment and safety procedures are fully updated.

In a statement released Thursday, OWASA stressed the importance of fluoridation to dental health. Fluoridation is done in accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Dental Association, the N.C. Division of Public Health, the Orange County Board of Health and other organizations, OWASA stated.

Since 1964, the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community's drinking water has been fluoridated (OWASA began operation in 1977), according to OWASA. Of the 50 largest cities in the United States, 44 provide fluoridated drinking water. About 75 percent of the U.S. population served by a community water system received fluoridated water in 2014. OWASA fluoridates drinking water to the level of 0.7 parts per million as recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service. The federal limit on fluoride in drinking water is 4 ppm.

The OWASA board's decision to continue fluoridation is based on the recommendations of public health agencies. The OWASA Board continues to invite public comment about fluoridation or on any of its services and policies.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

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