For the last nine months, Conway water has been without fluoride.
On Oct. 4, a 42-inch pipe in Conway Corp's Gleason Water Treatment Plant corroded to the point of failure near the fluoride and chlorine injection ports, according to a memo written by Conway Corp. senior water systems engineer Brett McDaniels dated July 2. It was determined that the failure was a result of these ports being too close together, according to the memo, which caused acidity levels to spike in the immediate area of the two ports before diluting to less-corrosive levels.
The pipe was replaced, and the immediate fix to the acidity problem was to do away with the fluoride injection port altogether.
"We also evaluated alternate locations to feed fluoride and have determined (that) it would be in our best interest to stop injecting fluoride indefinitely," the memo concludes.
On Monday, Conway Corp. CEO Richie Arnold said the city-owned utility service does not currently have enough water department funds to relocate the fluoride injection port, which Arnold estimated would cost between $115,000 and $150,000, but said the issue of again providing fluoride would be revisited when the 2009 operating budget is prepared this fall.
"We're looking at putting (the port) in our high-service pump station," he said, "which is the 'last stop' before it goes into our distribution system."
Recent water projects including the $500,000 relocation of a water transmission line running under Interstate 40 and the $200,000 relocation of a water pipe to facilitate the new Interstate 40 interchange have largely depleted Conway Corp.'s water department budget, Arnold explained.
Conway Corp. customers were never notified that their water was non-fluorinated.
"I didn't think there was any point," Arnold said, explaining later that the repairs to the pipe damaged by high acidity levels were only completed last month and that, until it was found last month that the cost of relocating the injection port was greater than Conway Corp. could afford, the lack of fluoridation "was always perceived to be a temporary situation."
"Honestly, we weren't sure when we could resume, or if we could resume (adding fluoride)," he said.
Though the memo states that discontinuing fluoridation indefinitely "would be in (Conway Corp.'s) best interest," Arnold said restoring the practice is a priority, adding that a recently approved increase to water rates could provide funding for the project.
Mayor Tab Townsell said Monday that he didn't know about the lack of fluoridation until he saw the memo last week, and that he "personally would like to see fluoridation continue."
Local dentists Terry Fiddler and Leo Crafton said they, too were unaware that the city's water has not been fluoridated since October.
Fiddler described the situation as "a time bomb ticking."
"What fluoride does to reduce the degree of decay in a child's mouth is incredible," he said. "So many dentists have discontinued fluoride treatment because they have simply assumed that their patients are getting fluoride every day.
"Without fluoridated water, we'll see a great increase in dental problems; it's a question of when, not if."
Crafton, a former member of the Conway Corp. Board of Directors, said that he learned in dental school that fluoride, when properly administered, "will reduce the cavity rate by about 60 percent, and I suppose that's still true."
Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance often found in ground water that is known to lessen the risk of tooth decay according to the American Dental Association, which endorses fluoridation of water at a level of about one part per million. The decision to fluoridate water rests solely with municipal water systems in the U.S., and is not required by state or federal agencies. Though it is rarely the case, some U.S. municipal water systems remove fluoride from naturally occurring drinking water sources to achieve the ADA-recommended concentration.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1238. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)