News Feature | February 26, 2019

Utah City Recovers From Drinking Water Ban Caused By Fluoride Spill

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

tap

Following a fluoride pump malfunction in the water system, residents in Sandy City, UT, were told not to drink their water. Now, local regulators are faced with questions about what went wrong and why locals weren’t notified sooner.

“Problems began Feb. 6, when a fluoride pump malfunctioned because of a power outage,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “It flooded parts of the water system with huge amounts of fluoride — which can cause health problems, plus the acidic fluoride also corroded pipes in some homes to release also-dangerous heavy metals such as lead and copper.”

But it wasn’t until the city received complaints about taste hours later that it identified and fixed the problem. Workers handed out flyers in what it thought was the affected area, but did not leave flyers behind if residents weren’t at home. Then, it turned out the problem was much larger than first suspected.

“In later days, [the city] started to receive complaints of health issues outside the small area — and the city realized it had affected thousands of homes,” per the Tribune. “Eventually, the city did use social media, reverse 911, news media notification and sending ‘all hands on deck’ door-to-door to notify residents.”

The drinking water ban was eventually lifted, but Sandy City still has some work to do to appease residents following the debacle. As part of the effort, local volunteers went door-to-door collecting water samples for the city to test.

“A couple dozen people woke up early on their day off to help test water around Sandy City on Monday morning,” KUTV reported. “Public works tested 200 samples over the weekend; all but one came back clean. It’s a very expensive process, according to the mayor.”

Additionally, the city released a computer simulation demonstrating how the fluoride likely traveled through the water system.

“The animation shows the highest levels traveling through the areas the city later deemed zones one and two,” according to KSL. “The fluoride levels in those areas exceeded 10 milligrams per liter, which Sandy Public Utilities engineering manager Richard Benham said was the level at which the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention requires water systems to shut down their fluoride equipment.”

Finally, the city has commissioned an independent investigation into the incident and the public utilities director will be on paid administrative leave as it takes place.

To read more about how drinking water utilities communicate with consumers, visit Water Online’s Consumer Outreach Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Running tap water," Joe Pell © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/