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Fluoride shortage may change Alpena drinking water

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Water Production Plant Supervisor Mike Collins shows off what is left to the fluoride powder that is left at the plant. It is expected the bags will only last through January. A shortage of the dry form of sodium fluorosilicateride has forced the city to consider transitioning to hydrofluorosilicic acid, which is more hazardous and expensive, or removing the mineral from the water altogether.

ALPENA — The drinking water in Alpena and Alpena Township may undergo a change due to a lingering supply shortage of fluoride.

The city is considering discontinuing adding the mineral, which is not mandated by the state or federal government.

Suez, the contractor that runs water and sewer operations for the city, said at the Alpena Municipal Council meeting Monday that acquiring dry sodium fluorosilicateride has become a challenge because of supply chain issues. Using it beyond the end of January may prove difficult.

Suez engineer Tugba Akgun presented the city three options for moving forward.

She said it can seek alternative suppliers, void the contract with the current supplier and likely pay more as supply and demand push prices higher.

It could transition away from powdered fluoride to hydrofluorosilicic acid, which would require expensive renovations to the water treatment plant and could create an unsafe work environment because of the toxicity and corrosiveness of the liquid.

The council could also choose to discontinue the addition of fluoride all together.

The city intends to work with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy on the matter, and seek input from city and township residents, possibly in a public hearing.

Akgun said the fluoride benefits few people in the area in terms of their dental health. She said fluoride is most effective in children ages three through 16 years old either in the form of fluoridated drinking water or fluoridated toothpaste. She said most likely, they receive the fluoride they need from dental care or from liquids like juice and soda that contain the mineral.

Utility Manager Mike Glowinski said only 10% of the water used is for consumption, so much of the fluoride goes to waste.

“The rest of the water is for cleaning dishes, doing laundry, watering the lawn and things flushing toilets,” he said. “That is where the majority of the water goes and it really doesn’t need to be (fluoridated).”

A switch to the liquid would force the city to invest more than $100,000 into the water production plant to integrate it into the water system and to have the needed safeguards put in place to protect employees and the public. The cost of the liquid would also be about three times more than the dry mineral.

Glowinski said the added capital and operating costs could also lead to higher water rates.

Hydrofluorosilicic acid is extremely dangerous and touching it, or breathing it on can cause injury, Glowinski said. The corrosiveness of it can also cause severe damage to the plant if vapors from the liquid, or the liquid itself escapes containment. The plant would require ventilation improvements if the council chooses this path.

Glowinski said Alpena has incorporated fluoride into its system for decades and over many of those years, he said many people have expressed concerns about it, and why it is needed. He said most people just want their water clean and safe, without unneeded additives like the fluorine.

“We add chemicals in order to make the water more safe to drink. We want to make sure people aren’t getting bacteria that could make them sick. Fluoride is not one of those chemicals,” Glowinski said. “The complaint I hear from people is ‘if we don’t really need it to make the water safer, why are you adding something to my water I don’t want and can’t remove.'”

If the council decides to do away with the fluoridation process, Glowinski said it will not change the taste of the water at all. Glowinski said nearby municipalities don’t use fluoride and people and businesses who rely on wells also have unfluoridated water.

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