Two Gilbert employees have been placed on leave while the town investigates why the North Water Treatment Plant failed for the past 13 months to put fluoride in the water.
Town spokeswoman Dana Berchman said the water is safe to drink, but that the failure to fluoridate the water is unacceptable.
Berchman said Gilbert tests its water daily to conform to the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure a safe drinking supply.
She said the lack of fluoridation “is unacceptable and we are taking immediate steps to remedy the situation. An independent verification of all aspects of our system is being conducted and we are evaluating what it will take to get the system online as soon as possible. A complete review of the matter and additional information will be forthcoming.”
During the investigation, Lonnie Frost, Public Works Director, and Chris Ochs, Water Manager, have been placed on leave. Effective immediately, Mark Horn, town wastewater manager, is the acting Public Works Director.
Frost has been employed by the town since October 1984, while Ochs began employment with Gilbert in February 2010.
In 2000, 54 percent of residents voted to add fluoride to drinking water, according to a Tribune article from 2003.
Gilbert began fluoridating the water in March 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Water fluoridation has been accepted as a safe, effective, and inexpensive method of preventing tooth decay,” according to the CDC’s website. “Adding fluoride to municipal drinking water is an efficient strategy to reduce dental disease among Americans of all social strata. It is the most cost-effective way to prevent tooth decay among populations living in areas with adequate community water supply systems.”
Water fluoridation has a contentious history in Gilbert. Even after the town’s 2000 referendum, it has occasionally resurfaced at town council meetings.
A Tribune article from 2003 said that Shelley Frost, who led the fight against adding fluoride to Gilbert’s drinking water, said that the council could find a way to end the treatment.
“I believe the council is simply hiding behind the referendum,” Shelley Frost told the Tribune in 2003 at a council meeting. “It’s a political move.”
The North Water Treatment Plant treats water only in the northern half of Gilbert, while the unaffected Santan Vista Treatment Plant serves the southern part of the town, according to the town’s website.
“It’s difficult to say exactly how many residents are served by the North Water Treatment Plant since residents in the area are also served by wells,” Berchman said. “Since our system utilizes water from the Santan Vista Water Plant and the North Water Treatment Plant and the wells, it’s hard to get an exact number.”
Berchman said that the problem with fluoridation at the Gilbert water treatment plan is completely unrelated to the E.coli contamination in San Tan Valley that has been in the news this week.
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