Fluoride corrodes plant, worries Soddy-Daisy operator

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Acid from fluoride, an industrial waste put into the water to protect tooth enamel, corrodes this storage room door. (Photo David Tulis)

Acid from fluoride, an industrial waste put into the water to protect tooth enamel, corrodes this storage room door. (Photo David Tulis)

Steve Roark is an award-winning water plant operator in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. Fighting damage caused by the acid fluoride is a dreary part of his job. (Photo David Tulis)

Steve Roark is an award-winning water plant operator in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. Fighting damage caused by the acid fluoride is a dreary part of his job. (Photo David Tulis)

This room stores three fluoride tanks, the smaller one containing the 60 to 80 pounds of fluoride daily that is dripped into drinking water in Soddy-Daisy. (Photo David Tulis)

This room stores three fluoride tanks, the smaller one containing the 60 to 80 pounds of fluoride daily that is dripped into drinking water in Soddy-Daisy at the North West Utility District. (Photo David Tulis)

Drips from hydrofluorocilicic acid eat away at a concrete floor at the Soddy-Daisy water plant run by North West Utility District. (Photo David Tulis)

Drips from hydrofluorocilicic acid eat away at a concrete floor at the Soddy-Daisy water plant run by North West Utility District, whose board is considering ending the voluntary use of the chemical. (Photo David Tulis)

Steve Roark has run a Tennessee water plant more than two decades, and while happy with his job he’s eaten up by a part of it.

That is the injection of fluoride into water from lake and well that he readies for human consumption in North Hamilton County.

By David Tulis

A man charged with things physical, Mr. Roark recounts a leak from the chemical whose rhythmic drip ate a hole in a cast iron pipe: “I seen the hole the fluoride ate through it.”

In a brief tour of the Soddy-Daisy plant’s small fluoride dispensary, he talks amid the clack of pumps in the background.

“It’s an acid. We inject this into the water. We feed roughly on average 60 to 80 pounds a day. In my opinion it’s very corrosive and it’s something we don’t need to be drinking.”

I ask Mr. Roark if his comment is based on opinion or observable fact. “Just what I see that it does to this plant.”

He persists: “It’s very corrosive. As you can see. It eats the concrete up. The door behind you, the glass has turned white — it is etching the glass.”

Mr. Roark’s board at North West Utility District board votes July 19, a Tuesday, on ending the voluntary custom of fluoridation in the area north of Chattanooga. The board is soliciting public comment.

The fluoride room contains two storage tanks and a smaller “day tank” in which the fluoride content is weighed daily and reported to the state. Into 2 million to 3 million gallons a day go up to 80 pounds of liquid fluoride acid.

The levels of fluoride are are 0.7 parts per million, down from 0.9 ppm just recently.

Anxious staff

“All of my operators complain about having to deal with this stuff because of the corrosiveness of it. Everybody feels like they’re breathing this stuff through the plant. You know, they try to wear respirators when they deal with it in the rooms, but it does get in the air through the filters. In the cleaning process we have blowers that come on and actually you can see a mist from the water coming up. We just feel we’re getting doses of this stuff when we shouldn’t be breathing it.”

Is illegal for him to have to breathe fluoride fumes, not just dangerous?

“It’s recommended” to not inhale fumes. “You can see on the placards of the tanks that it is a health hazard.”

Mr. Roark is a 24-year veteran at the plant and holds a Class 4 water treatment license, the highest level. He’s been nominated for plant operator of the war and has won awards in Tennessee and Kentucky for plant operators, he says. “I really care about this system and want to provide the best water that we can.”

Award-winning water plant operator Steve Roark works in his office at the Soddy-Daisy plant operated by Falling Water Utility District, whose board votes July 19 on whether to ditch fluoride. (Photo David Tulis)

Award-winning water plant operator Steve Roark works in his office at the Soddy-Daisy plant operated by Falling Water Utility District, whose board votes July 19 on whether to ditch fluoride. (Photo David Tulis)

‘Surplus stuff’

Mr. Roark is offhand in telling how the drip came to American drinking water.

It’s about dental health — “that’s what they claim. What happened was they had a bunch of surplus stuff they couldn’t get rid of” after WWII “so they talked a few doctors into putting it into the water system.”

The companies monetized and offloaded what he describes as an “industrial waste.”

Damage to plant

I ask about keeping value of capital investment for the ratepayers and the district.

“As far as the fluoride goes, it’s so corrosive we’ve lost a lot of equipment in this plant, the piping — valves, we’ve had to replace a lot of those. We’ve got two more we’re in the process of getting prices on to replace that, that where we feed it in, it’s so corrosive, it eats up the disk in the valves where it drips into the water. Right underneath that it’s eating holes in the pipe and it is so corrosive that really it that there’s not a lot you can do. We’ve spent a lot of money to get lined pipes and it still eats holes in it.”

How much are you getting?

Mr. Roark indicates that fluoride is distributed evenly among the millions of gallons he treats daily. Still, there’s a worry.

A properly hydrated person drinking eight glasses a day gets a lot more of the chemical than someone who gets a single glass a day, he says. “There’s really no way to controlling the dosage you’re getting” unless you avoid water or drink less.

“You really don’t know what sort of dosage you’re getting. Because a lot of it depends on how much water you do drink. A lot of children don’t drink much water; they’re always drinking juices. And colas and stuff. I think maybe it needs to be applied to your teeth. You get it in toothpaste. I just don’t feel we should be drinking it. What’s it doing to the rest of our body?”

In our visit I suggest fluoride is a “medical treatment” given without prior consent, informed consent or any other sort of consent. The dosage is unknown, but presumably the same for everybody, whether 30-pound tot or 190-pound high school wrestler.

“A lot of people are concerned about a child’s teeth,” Mr. Roark says. “But they’re letting them drink cola products, you know, Mello Yello, which is very corrosive to your teeth.” Toothpaste, mouthwash have fluoride. Maybe that’s enough, he says. “We’re force medicating people, and I don’t think it’s our place to do that.”

The developing fluoride story

Fluoride corrodes plant, worries Soddy-Daisy operator

Strong hint from research: Chemical damages small children

YouTube brief: Fluoride eats away fixtures, pipes, Soddy-Daisy water plant storage rooms

Fluoride pits concrete, corrodes pipes at Sale Creek plant; operator sick

Critics rip fluoride as peril in Soddy-Daisy, dentists tell board it toughens teeth

Tulis urges Hamilton County utility board to halt fluoridation of water

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