SANDY — A Utah lawmaker says a statewide moratorium on pump injectors delivering fluoride to drinking water may be necessary in light of Sandy's recent experience with malfunctioning equipment.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said he is concerned those delivery systems are unsafe after high concentrations of undiluted fluoride were released into a portion of Sandy's drinking water system over a period of up to 48 hours.
The contamination happened in the aftermath of an overnight power outage Feb. 5 in which the pump delivering fluoride kicked on, but the water did not.
The acidic concentration of fluoride ate away at piping, elevating levels of copper and lead in the water, prompting a weekend no drink order for that area of the city from Feb. 15 until Feb. 17.
Several adults were sickened, and at least one infant was ill from ingesting formula mixed with the contaminated water.
Fallout over how Sandy officials handled the contamination, particularly notification procedures, continues to unfold with ramifications that could last months, or possibly years.
Among those impacts:
• The state of Utah is requiring the city of Sandy to move from sampling drinking water for lead and copper 30 times every three years to collecting at least 60 samples every six months in a monitoring change that could increase in even more frequency and last for an unknown duration.
• Heightened political interest in Handy's HB360 to require implementation of a $5 million mandatory testing and mitigation program for lead in drinking water in Utah's schools and more than 400 child care centers.
• Renewed controversy over fluorinating drinking water, its cost and whether it is safe.
• Increasing accountability for water systems that deliver to nonresidents outside political boundaries.
A moratorium like the one Handy is proposing would make Salt Lake County's requirement to fluorinate water impossible, said Marie Owens, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water.
She added that if something is determined "missing" in the design specifications in the Sandy system, those specifications could be revamped on a statewide basis.
"Clearly something malfunctioned," she said.
Residents crowded a town hall meeting Monday night to complain about Sandy's lack of notification, and the City Council was meeting Tuesday night to decide what shape a post-mortem investigation may take.
Residents also attended Tuesday's City Council meeting to call for an investigation or audit of the city's handling of the situation. The city's rules and procedures need to be evaluated, many also said. Some at the meeting urged officials to reconsider putting fluoride in water at all.
The council unanimously passed a motion to appoint a technical investigative committee that will not include city personnel or government. The committee will audit the city's emergency management procedures, communication practices and regulatory compliance. Contingency funds will pay for the committee.
The city was issued a violation for excess fluoride and remains under investigation for public notification requirements.
The division has not yet come to any conclusions about the status of the notification requirements.
It wasn't until 10 days after the fluoride breach that the city issued a press release and held a press conference, advising the thousands of households to flush water systems. At the event, city officials said it was OK to drink the water but reversed that stance less than 24 hours later.
Kristy Shelton lives in the neighboring township of White City, but is among about a dozen households in a still rural area that receives culinary water from Sandy.
By Tuesday, she had still not been notified by Sandy that she is part of the third zone of the contamination. In a social media exchange, even, a city employee said anyone who lives in White City receives water from the White City Water Improvement District, not from Sandy.
Shelton says she has the Sandy water bill to prove otherwise and on Tuesday afternoon, someone showed up at her house to test the water after she made a formal request.
"I feel like I live on an island, an island in Sandy City that has been ignored," she said.
Shelton has 28 horses on her property, including animals she boards and those she owns. She said she had to spring into "ninja mode" on Saturday when she learned through news reports about the no drink order.
She spent three hours dumping her water supply and getting fresh water to fill six 50-gallon drums for the horses and their buckets. There are extra water supplies on hand in her barn because of the uncertainty that grips her now.
She said she called Sandy's mayor and hasn't received a call back. When she called the city's hotline number, the person on the other end told her to consume the water using her discretion.
"To me it feels like it has been the survival of the fittest," she said. "If you are a city leader it is your job to instill confidence. I feel what happened is they instilled fear and panic. The fastest way to cripple your citizens is to damage their water supply someway."
The no drink order has since been lifted, three Sandy schools came back with clean results Tuesday and additional testing is continuing at individual households.
Owens said she believes from results she has seen thus far that the problem is not ongoing and it is safe to drink the water.20 comments on this story
She did add, however, that she has not seen anything of this magnitude before at the Utah Division of Drinking Water.
"This is the most significant event related to lead in (the state) I have seen in my career."
Contributing: Caitlin Burchill
Correction: An earlier version indicated Marie Owens said the design of Sandy's fluoride delivery system was flawed. That determination has not been made. The Utah Division of Drinking Water does not have a position on the delivery of fluoride and has not yet concluded Sandy violated public notification requirements.