ENCINITAS — The introduction of sodium fluoride into the OMWD (Olivenhain Municipal Water District) water supply was delayed by a week or two, following a permit amendment issue, according to Tom Kennedy, operations manager of OMWD.
Initially scheduled to begin the fluoridation process on July 1, Kennedy, in an email Tuesday, said the delay stems from a permit amendment issue with the California Department of Public Health.
Originally seeking to file one permit amendment that included the fluoride addition, which Kennedy called a, “very small part of a much larger project,” said the DPH wasn’t ready to issue a permit amendment for the entire project.
He said the DPH decided to split off the fluoride permit and it will take a week or perhaps two to get the paperwork done.
The new fluoride facility finished construction more than a month ago at the David C. McCollom Water Treatment Plant in Elfin Forest and took about six months to complete, though the design plans for the project began back in 2007-08, Kennedy said.
At a cost of more than a million dollars, it was paid for mostly with grants received from the First 5 Commission and the CDAF (California Dental Association Foundation).
The First 5 Commission contributed $892,384, with the CDAF contributing $110,000.
Once the fluoridation process begins, OMWD will begin adding small doses to the 30 million gallons of water that go in and out of the plant.
Kennedy said that there’s already a naturally-occurring amount of fluoride in the water that varies from about 0.2 to 0.3 parts per million. He said it varies depending on the blend of water they receive from the Colorado State River or the state water project.
Typically, the district will be adding another 0.4 parts per million of sodium fluoride to reach a target number of about 0.7 parts per million — a number suggested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in July 2011 to water systems practicing fluoridation.
“And that’ll match what’s in the city of San Diego and water authorities as well as water districts pretty much in all of the state,” Kennedy said.
The granular form of sodium fluoride the district opted to use comes from Univar, a global distributor of commodity and specialty chemicals. They have more than 260 distribution centers around the world, including one in Redmond, Wash.
The sodium fluoride is delivered by truckload, which makes for safer transportation given the narrow, winding roads leading to the Elfin Forest facility.
According to Kennedy, a full truckload will last the entire summer. He said they’ll take about three to four shipments per year depending on what the water district’s demands are.
A 2,000-pound sack of the sodium fluoride will be loaded into the newly-built tank every four days during the peak of summer, and in the winter time once every two weeks, he said.
The dosing process is completely computer operated. When their lab analyzes the raw water for the naturally-occurring fluoride levels, that number will determine how to set the dose levels to reach the targeted level, explained Dave Smith, water treatment facilities supervisor.
“We have a very complex monitoring system,” Kennedy said. That includes daily lab samples, and monitors on all pumps and tanks and systems, he added. There are thousands of different sensors that monitor every aspect of the water treatment process on a continuous basis.
While the fluoride addition is not a primary standard, if it went over a certain preset value it would shut down the fluoride pump from overdosing the water supply.
“The fluoride pumps are sized so that they really can’t overdose that much,” Kennedy said. “Unless we’re running really low flow rates, the fluoride pumps aren’t big enough to pump way too much fluoride in. You just can’t do it.”
Governed through the California Department of Public Health, which approves the permits to run the plant, and approve the monitoring processes, methods and techniques used, OMWD sends a monthly report to the state.
The DHS also visits the plant annually. They’ve visited the plant more often this year due to the increased construction activities recently.
In addition to the annual visits and monthly reports, the facility also sends information to third party labs, which report the findings directly to the state and the facility, Kennedy explained.
But despite safety precautions, Kennedy and the water district have heard from the public both in support of and against the addition of fluoride into the water supply.
On Monday, a group of concerned residents gathered in front of the OMWD offices in Encinitas with signs against the use of the fluoride.
Dr. David Banks, a dentist for about 40 years, was one of those holding a sign against fluoride use. He practices in San Marcos where fluoride has already been introduced into the water supply.
From that, he said he’s seen an increase in fluorosis in children’s teeth. “We’ve always seen fluorosis, but we’re seeing more and more fluorosis,” he said.
Fluorosis is mostly a surface condition where white spots show on the teeth. “When it gets bad,” he said, “they turn yellow, brown and the enamel doesn’t form correctly. And instead of it becoming more resistant to decay, it becomes less resistant to decay.”
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) said fluorosis does occur from fluoridated water, but added that it also was a result of other fluoridated products as toothpaste and mouthrinses.
Evidence did show that infants, whose formula was mixed with fluoridated water, could also develop fluorosis, according to the CDC.
Alex Fidel, 21, organized Monday’s protest and said his concerns were over the matter of choice. “I think as people, regardless of whether fluoride is good or bad, I think it comes down to choice, and what they’re doing is they’re force medicating people who may not want to,” he said.
Banks said there is a popular misconception that fluoride is a nutrient. It’s not, he said. “Fluoride is a toxin.”
He said the industrial form of fluoride used in the water isn’t buffered as much as the naturally-occurring calcium fluoride and that ends up accumulating in peoples’ bones, which could have impacts such as weaker bones, more tendencies to arthritis and other sorts of problems.
Banks feels that less than 0.1 part per million would be a safe fluoridation level.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) said on Wednesday that, “fluoride is an element, just like nitrogen, phosphorus, metals, etc. They can all be considered ‘nutrients’ because biological life depends on them. They can also be considered ‘toxins’ if the exposure concentration exceeds the effects threshold.”
“The way we look at,” Kennedy said, “irrespective of your personal or professional opinion on fluoridate or not fluoridate, once everybody else is doing it, we really want to be consistent.”
That, he added, enables the people to know where the water is fluoridated and if there’s any objection to it they can take whatever measures they need to do.
It also lets all of the dentists know so that they don’t add fluoride supplements to patients they shouldn’t, Kennedy added.
“We think that from a public health standpoint, we should either all do it, or all not do it. But if 90 percent of the county is doing it, and we’re kind of the lone holdout, and we literally have streets where one side is fluoridated and our side isn’t, that’s not doing our ratepayers or the public in general any service,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said that, ultimately, the decision to fluoridate was that of the water board and that their job is to execute their decision.
The San Dieguito Water District and the Santa Fe Irrigation District are the two North County facilities that haven’t started the fluoridation process.
The fluoride addition is going to add about $1 per acre foot to ratepayers’ bills, Kennedy said. The vast majority of what the ratepayer pays, still comes from the imported water costs.
Residents can remove some of the fluoridation in their water by using a distillation or reverse osmosis water filtration system. A charcoal-based water filtration system or boiling the water won’t remove the fluoride, according to the CDC.