Anchorage mayor turned off fluoride in city water for about 5 hours

a person inside a large tent
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with reporters inside the warming tent outside the Sullivan Arena shelter the morning of Nov. 19, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson had the fluoridation of the city’s water turned off for about five hours in October, according to a statement Tuesday from the mayor’s office. City code requires the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply.

Bronson decided to stop the fluoridation while visiting the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility Eklutna Water Treatment Plant on Oct. 1, according to the mayor’s spokesperson Corey Allen Young.

The statement from the mayor’s office, emailed by Young, comes three days after The Alaska Landmine blog, citing anonymous sources, reported that the mayor had interfered with the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water and inappropriately pressured the police chief. On Monday, Young flatly denied that any of the allegations happened.

But the statement sent by him Tuesday said Bronson ordered the fluoride turned off after water plant staff who handled the fluoride said it was burning their eyes and throats.

The union that represents the employees handling the fluoride, however, said it’s heard of no such complaints.

“We have not had a single report from a member who works at the facility that this was of concern to them or that they had been harmed in any way by adding the fluoride to the water system,” Aaron Plikat, business agent at United Association Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 367, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Plikat said the union members working at the plant have been there a long time, wear safety equipment and follow protocols when handling fluoride, which is commonly found in public drinking water and has been in Anchorage’s water for decades.

He described the mayor’s statement as “shocking.”

Jon Cecil is the president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, which represents nearly 600 city workers, including some of AWWU’s employees. He also said he had not heard any concerns about worker safety tied to fluoride, though his current members don’t directly handle it.

According to Young, the mayor’s team was told by AWWU staff that turning off fluoride in the city’s water wasn’t against municipal code. According to Plikat, the union members handling the fluoride know it’s required.

Bronson decided to stop fluoridation on Oct. 1 and said he would investigate the concerns raised by workers with the Assembly, according to the statement from the mayor’s office. 

Young later called to clarify that AWWU Manager Mark Corsentino asked Bronson to have the fluoride turned off.

Later that day on Oct. 1, according to the statement, the mayor’s office “determined Municipal Code requires the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply.” It said the mayor’s office “immediately informed AWWU leadership to resume fluoridation of the Muni’s water.”

In all, fluoridation was halted for about five hours, according to the statement. Corsentino said in the statement that testing showed there was no “disruption or material change to the fluoride in our water during October 1.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, Young doubled down on his denial of the other allegations posted by The Landmine, including one that Bronson had ordered the police chief to enter a hospital to interfere with a COVID-19 patient’s care. 

“That did not happen,” he said. “Mayor Bronson did not direct Chief McCoy to send his officers or anybody from APD inside that hospital.”

But the mayor’s office acknowledged there was a discussion with Anchorage police and other officials about sending officers into a hospital after a state senator contacted the mayor. Young said he was not part of the conversation and declined to say who was in the meeting. 

“Everything was properly vetted through the right channels, the right information was sussed out people made the right calls, the right decisions. No action was taken with regards to APD going into Providence or St. Elias,” said Hans Rodvik, another Bronson spokesperson. 

Chris Constant, vice chair of the Anchorage Assembly, said in a written statement that the news of Bronson turning off the fluoridation showed that “it’s clear the initial denial by the administration is inaccurate” and said the Assembly would continue its inquiry.

“We have now begun the fact finding process and I share the Mayor’s desire to investigate these concerns,” he wrote. “This process will unfold over the next weeks and months and will be thorough and comprehensive.”

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This story has been updated.

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon and Wesley Early contributed to reporting on this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Jon Cecil, president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, saying none of his members who work at AWWU have reported being harmed by fluoride. He later said he does not currently represent any workers who directly handle fluoride.

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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