Assembly questions water utility general manager over temporary fluoride shutoff

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 9:24 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - More answers came to light as Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility General Manager Mark Corsentino was questioned by the Anchorage Assembly on Friday on what exactly happened in October when Mayor Dave Bronson directed that the fluoride for the municipality be turned off.

The city fluoridation system was off for a few hours before it was turned back on. The mayor’s office has said Bronson ordered the fluoride turned off because of health concerns the workers reported facing when handling the chemical. The mayor’s office has also said that it was Corsentino who asked Bronson to authorize turning off the system.

During a work session on Friday, members of the assembly were able to ask questions about exactly what happened during the mayor’s visit to the utility’s facility in Eklutna. During that worksession, Corsentino said it was actually Bronson who asked for the system to be turned off.

The mayor’s office has said multiple times that the administration was told during the visit that turning off the fluoridation system would not violate any state or federal laws or regulations, or city charter.

“It was stated multiple times during this time that it would not break any state or federal regulations or charter,” Deputy Municipal Manager Kolby Hickel said during a committee meeting in December. “What they failed to mention was that it was actually in code.”

During Friday’s work session, however, Corsentino said utility staff did tell the Bronson administration that it would violate city code.

“We did inform the mayor that it is a code violation, but we also let him know that, in the long term it is, more importantly,” Corsentino said.

Assembly member Jamie Allard then tried to interject.

“But, please let me finish. Yes, he asked us to turn it off and I concurred,” Corsentino said.

After that, they had the plant foreman shut the system down.

“You know, I wasn’t in a position where I was going to argue with him and say, you know, ‘don’t do this,’” Corsentino said. “It was quick, it was surprising don’t get me wrong, ... and the logic in my mind right, wrong or indifferent, we deemed that not to be a threat and we were OK with it. So we said ‘OK’ and we recognized that he was going to take this up right away or change his mind, and in that respect I wasn’t going to disagree.”

Corsentino also told the assembly that Municipal Manager Amy Demoski, with the mayor, requested the fluoride be turned back on approximately six hours later. The mayor’s office has said that once the administration learned fluoridation of city water is actually in city code, they immediately ordered the system to be turned back on.

“They want to take a different, more deliberative approach if it’s going to get done,” Corsentino said. “A more thoughtful, you know — it was done in haste for good intentions, but that can bite you and you’d rather take a different approach to make sure it’s done more thoughtfully.”

Corsentino said that even though the system was off, the water would still be fluoridated for days if not weeks. The question remains whether the action of shutting down the system temporarily violated city code or not. Some, including Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant, believe it did.

“The code reads to me that ‘authorized and directed to continue supplementing’ is the operating term there,” Constant said. “It isn’t ‘until it reaches a low part of .5 parts per million’ or whatever. It’s pretty specific, it says ‘shall continue supplementing.’”

Corsentino made the argument that the utility does at times have to shut the system down anyway for repair and maintenance. In response to a question from Allard, Corsentino said that, in his interpretation, the mayor did not violate city code.

“If people feel we’ve violated code, my suggestion is audit us. Have the auditors do that, and involve lawyers,” Corsentino said.

In a previous statement sent out in December, Corsentino had described fluoride as “a dangerous hazardous chemical” and said that members of his staff did tell the Bronson administration they were experiencing physical effects from handling it.

During Friday’s work session, however, Corsentino described it as a “mild hazard.” He said there’s always a risk that comes with handling it, but that the utility does everything it can to keep workers safe with the use of personal protective equipment.

When asked what the next steps are, Constant said the assembly will take the next few days to consider everything that was said.

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