Fluoride monitored

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Since the 1950s, fluoride has been added to Iola’s drinking water. Other chemicals are added as well.
The process to ensure the water is safe is about as foolproof as possible, said Toby Ross, water plant superintendent.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has established thresholds for all chemicals used in the treatment of water.
“We check the water every day to make sure the levels of fluoride, chlorine and ammonia are where they’re supposed to be,” Ross said of the added chemicals. All three are injected through computer-controlled systems.
The tests are done from a tap on the main line running into town from the new plant perched near the Neosho River west of Iola.
Fluoride is added at .6 to 1.2 parts per million, with the point of contamination, and concern, at 4 parts per million.
“We hardly ever exceed 1 ppm, and have never, in the 16 years I’ve worked at the plant, had more than 1.3 ppm,” Ross said.
“A lot of people have been asking me about fluoride, because of the vote in Humboldt, and I’ve told them that I’ve lived in Iola all my life and haven’t had any adverse effects from drinking fluoridated water,” Ross said. “I don’t know of anyone who has.
“Any chemical can be dangerous if it isn’t used in an appropriate and controlled manner,” he added. “If I were to open a barrel of chlorine and breathe in the undiluted fumes, it would burn my lungs, maybe even kill me. But, when it’s added to water in proper amounts, chlorine kills bacteria and keeps the water pure and safe to drink.”
Voters in Humboldt will receive ballots by mail Wednesday for a referendum to decide whether their city will fluoridate its water.

THE FLUORIDE that goes into Iola’s water comes in liquid form as hydrofluosilicic acid. The chemical may also be purchased in powder or crystal form.
“The liquid works well for us and has for many years,” Ross said.
A pump with two check valves, to guard against any accidental introduction, adds fluoride to Iola’s water after it is processed and filtered through 15 inches of sand and 30 inches of anthracite coal. At the same time chlorine and ammonia are added. Chlorine is an anti-bacterial agent and ammonia acts as a catalyst to make the chlorine work better.
Prior to being filtered, suspended solids are removed and ozone used as a primary disinfectant. The chlorine is added later as a residual disinfectant that would cleanse water throughout the system if bacteria were to infiltrate.
After addition of the chemicals, water flows to a million-gallon clearwell, where it is stored before being pumped into elevated storage tanks in Iola. It’s between the clearwell and in-town tanks that the water is tested each day.
KDHE also does extensive testing each quarter.
“In our last test on July 14, fluoride content was 0.94 parts per million,” Ross said. “In January it was 0.76 ppm and for 2008 it ranged between 0.65 and 1.2 on the quarterly tests.”
Even at their highest level of fluoride, that was one-third of what KDHE regards as a contaminant.