Anchorage mayor directed city water fluoridation to be turned off, and turned back on hours later

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 4:11 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2021 at 6:20 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s office has said that he decided to turn off the system for adding fluoride to the city’s water supply in early October after hearing from employees that the fluoride was causing negative physical symptoms. It was then turned back on hours later when it was discovered fluoridation is required by city code.

On Tuesday, the mayor’s office responded, in part, to a number of allegations made about inappropriate requests that surfaced over the weekend. One of the claims made in a local political blog was that Bronson’s administration had interfered with the fluoridation of the city’s water supply while on a visit to the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility facility.

The blog claimed that Bronson and members of his “senior staff” had interfered with the system. The mayor’s office did not respond to an Alaska’s News Source request for comment on Monday, but on Tuesday sent out a press release addressing the mayor’s visit to the facility, the Eklutna Water Treatment Plant, which happened on Oct. 1.

“During the visit, a discussion ensued about health problems occurring among water treatment plant staff charged with fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply,” the statement reads. “AWWU staff informed the Mayor’s team that fluoride burned the eyes and throats of staff who handled it and was a health hazard for employees. Fluoride is considered a hazardous substance that must be handled by trained professionals.”

According to the business manager for UA Local 367 Plumbers & Steamfitters, a union that represents all of the employees at the utility, the union has not received any reports or complaints from its members about the handling of fluoride.

“These members are very experienced, well-trained, long-term employees,” Business Manager Aaron Plikat wrote in an email Wednesday. “It was surprising for us to hear that comments regarding safety were made. I’m confident had there been a complaint made — to either the union or the management of AWWU — it would have been promptly addressed.”

According to the release, the mayor’s team was told during that visit that pausing the fluoridation process “would not violate federal or state law and didn’t violate Municipal Charter.”

The release states that Bronson decided to halt the fluoridation process. He also decided to “further investigate these concerns” with the Anchorage Assembly, according to the release.

According to a legislative liaison for the assembly on Wednesday, however, the assembly never got any official communication from the mayor about this issue.

“He was genuinely concerned about employees’ wellbeing,” spokesperson Corey Allen Young said on Tuesday.

According to Young, it was the general manager of Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility, Mark Corsentino, who asked Bronson to direct the fluoridation system to be turned off.

However, later that same afternoon, the press release states that the mayor’s office “determined” that city code does in fact require fluoridation of the Anchorage water supply.

“The Mayor’s Office immediately informed AWWU leadership to resume fluoridation of the Muni’s water,” the release states.

According to the mayor’s office, fluoride was not being added to the city water supply for about five hours before the process was resumed. According to the release, Corsentino confirmed that “the data shows there was no disruption or material change to the fluoride in our water during October 1.”

The release states that the utility also sometimes shuts down the fluoridation process to perform maintenance, most recently in November.

The section of city code regarding fluoride in Anchorage water states that the utility manager is “directed to continue supplementing the fluoride content of the water supply, to maintain a level of not more than 1.3 parts per million.”

The city code also states that all techniques used to apply fluoride to the water has to comply with rules set by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

Alaska’s News Source has reached out to the mayor’s office and assembly leadership with additional questions about the visit.

The announcement from the mayor’s office comes a day after the assembly began looking into all three allegations made the the Alaska Landmine blog. The other two claims are that Bronson’s administration pressured Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy to remove Anchorage police officers from the assembly chambers during a volatile meeting in October, and that the administration asked McCoy to have officers enter a local hospital to remove a COVID-19 patient.

The assembly had asked for emails, text messages, voice messages and other materials related to the claims by Tuesday’s regular assembly meeting.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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