Newly released records shed light on mayor’s role in Anchorage fluoride shutoff

Documents indicate mayor’s administration knew about fluoride shut-off for months, though denied it.
Documents shine a light on disagreements amongst city officials over what happened the day Mayor Dave Bronson ordered the city's fluoride to be turned off.
Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 6:00 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s News Source has obtained dozens of documents that shine a light on disagreements amongst city officials over what happened the day Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson ordered water utility workers to turn off the city’s fluoride supply.

When it became public last December that the mayor had directed Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility workers to turn off the city’s fluoridation system two months earlier, a lot of questions were raised.

For instance, what did the mayor know about the requirement in city code to fluoridate the water, and what did utility staff tell him before he made that decision?

News outlets and the Anchorage Assembly asked for records to find out. In January, the city sent Alaska’s News Source a quote for more than $14,000 for those records, and records detailing two other incidents.

The administration stated the request would include more than 7,000 documents, and take 350 staff hours to complete.

Instead, Alaska’s News Source chose to ask for the same information the assembly had already requested. From that, about 40 pages of documents on the fluoride issue were received.

Here’s what those documents and emails show:

On October 1, 2021, the day Mayor Dave Bronson toured Eklutna’s water treatment plant with some of his staffers, Deputy Municipal Manager Kolby Hickel sent emails to Bronson’s spokesperson Corey Allen Young, in which she detailed the tour, writing:

“At 2:55 pm Mayor Bronson directed the staff to stop adding fluoride to our drinking water. This will save $100k in chemical costs per year and will save $1million in upgrade capital costs. This is a health and safety issue for our employees who handle this chemical...”

Hickel then sent Young photos of bags containing the chemicals used for fluoridation, and Young replied “Thank you.”

The plant’s superintendent, Brad Stitzel, sent an email around 5 p.m. that same day, briefing his staff about the mayor’s visit.

“It was explained to Mayor Bronson that Municipal Charter directs the AWWU water plants to dose fluoride,” Stitzel wrote.

He described the expense of dosing fluoride in physical chemicals, maintenance and labor.

“Mayor Bronson then directed water treatment staff at all AWWU water plants that dose fluoride to take fluoride systems offline,” he wrote.

By 6:27 p.m. just hours after the tour, AWWU General Manager Mark Corsentino sent another email, saying he’d spoken with the mayor and municipal manager, who had decided to turn the fluoride back on.

“... while they support removing fluoride from our water, they want to ensure it is done legally.” Corsentino wrote. “At your earliest opportunity, please resume adding fluoride to the water systems...”

However, Stitzel’s account of what the mayor was told, clashes with what Hickel recalled two months later.

On Dec. 13, nearly a week after the incident was first made public, Hickel wrote in an email to municipal manager Amy Demboski that during the Oct. 1 tour, the Eklutna water plant’s senior staff told her that, “eliminating fluoride from the water supply would not violate state, federal or charter regulations.”

“It wasn’t until we returned to the office, less than two hours later, where we learned it was in fact in Code,” Hickel wrote.

When first asked in December about the allegation that the mayor had shut off the fluoride, Young, the mayor’s spokesperson, told reporters that it was false, despite receiving an email the same day as the visit noting the order to turn off the system.

Within days, the mayor’s office and water utility acknowledged the fluoride system had been shut down for a few hours.

Neither Bronson nor Young responded to requests for an interview or a comment. The assembly has since launched an inquiry into how this all unfolded.

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