SANDY — Mayor Kurt Bradburn announced Wednesday his director of public utilities will be on paid leave while an independent investigation probes the inadvertent release of concentrated fluoride into a portion of the city's drinking water system.
Bradburn said the move regarding Tom Ward is best for the city as the "fact gathering process plays out."
Standing at the mayor's side during a brief news conference and without taking any questions, Ward said Wednesday he is confident that safety has been restored to the city's water system.
"To restore public confidence, however, in the water supply I support bringing in an independent investigator to conduct a full analysis of the recent incidents. Due to the distraction of the media, I feel my ability to direct the public utilities department is being hampered, so I will be stepping away while the investigation is being conducted," Ward said.
He voiced his trust in the mayor and city staff to serve Sandy residents in his absence.
Bradburn said Ward will remain on paid administrative leave "until we get a better understanding of what happened."
The decision follows action by the Sandy City Council to pursue the formation of a three-member independent panel to probe what happened and why, as well as how the situation was administratively handled.
Earlier Wednesday, the city announced it had 1,100 results from water tests, with only one test showing poor water quality. That home has already been notified, officials said.
The city is conducting a systemwide check of its 11 fluoride injectors after the release of concentrated chemical into a section of town potentially impacting 2,200 homes, some schools and other facilities.
The Utah Division of Drinking Water issued the city a citation for excess levels of fluoride and is investigating whether it engaged in adequate public notification.
Officials say a snowstorm overnight on Feb. 5-6 led to a power outage, ultimately causing the injector to malfunction. The city has been criticized by residents for how it handled notification. A news release was first issued Feb. 15, with updates on possible elevated levels of lead and copper the next day.
Adding fluoride into drinking water systems occurs in Salt Lake and Davis counties in Utah, with some self-contained water providers that opted out under an exemption.
Some of those areas include Woods Cross in Davis County and Holladay and White City in Salt Lake County.
In 2000, voters approved the introduction of fluoride in Salt Lake County and it was implemented three years later.
Any problems with Sandy's system is not causing Salt Lake County officials to undertake any review, the county said Wednesday.
"Salt Lake County elected officials do not have the legal authority to change the county’s fluoridation status; only the voters do," Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said.
“As a kid growing up in the '70s, my dental health was much different than children today. It’s wonderful to me, as a mom, to hear “No cavities!” every time my kids leave the dentist, and that good oral health is thanks in part to fluoride in the water of Salt Lake County.”
Wilson's comments come even as one Utah lawmaker said earlier this week he is exploring legislation to enact a moratorium on fluoride delivery until community safety is assured.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said a review might be appropriate given concerns.
A Davis County commissioner did say because of concerns brought to her attention, she is planning site visits to water system distribution locations for fluoride.4 comments on this story
"I am happy to go look at all of these," said Davis County Commissioner Lorene Miner Kamalu. "It never hurts to look at things freshly."
Fluoride was introduced in Davis County as a result of a voter initiative as well.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office is aware of complaints and concerns raised over fluoride in water.
"Our civil division is working with the health department and county commission to address those concerns," he said. "We want to make sure what is happening in Davis County is in compliance with state and federal laws, rules and regulations."