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Utility changes to fluoridated water

Fairbanks Daily News Miner
March 8, 2002
By Diana Campbell, Staff Writer

College Utilities has begun using Golden Heart Utilities fluoridated water for its 1,800 customers. The utility gained approval from a state regulatory agency last week to make the switch. The company closed its water plant on Tuesday.

"All it is, is just mechanically switching the water," said David Dean, spokesman for Utility Services of Alaska, which operates both water systems and a waste water system. The two utilities systems were already connected for emergency purposes, Dean said.

Officials said they wanted to make the switch because the College Utilities water plant was aging and would cost $3 million at a minimum to repair.

Golden Heart was part of the city of Fairbanks-owned Municipal Utilities System. MUS, which operated water, sewer, telephone and electrical services, was sold in 1997. Utilities Services of Alaska bought the water and sewer portion.

Agnes Pitts, spokeswoman for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, said about 15 people complained about the water switch because Golden Heart treats its water with fluoride. Those people voiced health concerns, she said.

Dan Gavora, a vice president with Utility Services, said the fluoride is used at state-approved levels and would not cause health risks.

The College Utilities water plant, located at the end of Fairbanks Street, will be drained and dismantled, Dean said.

Water change deserves public input

Fairbanks Daily News Miner
February 13, 2002
By Douglas Yates, Guest Column

There's trouble in river city, and it has to do with water and respect. The issue revolves around the planned closure of College Utilities Corp.'s wells and treatment plant. For people in west Fairbanks and outside of the city limits, your piped water source and its chemistry is about to change. This includes all Water Wagon deliveries and its fill-and-go service. And no one bothered to ask your opinion.

Subject to approval by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, College Utilities, through its parent corporation, Golden Heart Utilities, intends to supply its water district with water purchased from GHU.

Prior to privatization in 1997, GHU was part of the city of Fairbanks utilities system. The electricity and steam plant was purchased by a Usibelli company, Aurora Energy. The sewer and water utilities were sold to a group of prominent businessmen, including state Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

Homes in the Davis Road area, University West and College subdivisions, restaurants and schools are slated to receive water from the former city-owned wells, now GHU, in downtown Fairbanks. Area-wide municipal water will be treated in GHU's facility, where the drug fluoride has been added since the 1950s. College Utilities does not medicate its water.

Benzene is the other major concern connected with GHU's wells. City wells first encountered benzene, a known carcinogen, in 1970. Following extensive testing and mitigation, GHU's water is now treated to reduce benzene to a level considered safe by the government. With each passing year, however, science demonstrates that previously "safe" levels risk malignancies and leukemia. I've read references on the Internet that claim trace amounts of benzene can also be aerosolized in home showers, creating a secondary pathway into the lungs.

Given the history of the Chena River waterfront, the nearby Alaska Railroad terminus and industrial area, it's inevitable that GHU wells would be put at risk. So it's troubling that CUC's consumers are being quietly placed on a unified system supplied with water that in the minds of more than a few carries a toxic history.

According to CUC, taking its operation off-line is a cost-cutting measure. The inactive water facility, located on Fairbanks St., near the Geist Road Post Office, will save GHU shareholders the expense of upgrades and maintenance.

No surprise there. Private corporations are expected to cut corners in order to boost shareholder profits. However, public utilities have special obligations because they deal with the health and welfare of large groups of people. That's where the Regulatory Commission comes in.

This five-member board is appointed by the governor, and working with a staff of experts, independently justifies the rates and service of public utilities.

When it comes to fluoride, it seems quite a few minds are settled. "Fluoride is no big deal; it's for kids' teeth," some say. Or, "I'm not worried about it, the government says it's 'OK."' And yet when recent science is examined, it's strikingly clear that the drug's mandatory over-prescription is damaging people and communities.

Here are just a few items I read on the Internet at ww.rvi.net/fluoride/index.htm and at www.fluoridealert.org .

Where fluoride has been added to water for years, hip fractures in elderly occur at twice the rate of the same age group in communities without the drug.

Boiling water concentrates fluoride.

Fluoride is banned in 98 percent of Europe's public water.

Fluoride is an enzyme inhibitor and has the ability to alter exquisitely timed electro-chemical interactions that coordinate complex biological processes. At latest count, the human body operates with over 7,000 enzymes. And yet fluoride's effects on enzymes has never been fully studied.

This fact is not lost on people who have become modern mine canaries.

Calling attention to the 200,000 tons of fluoride placed in public water annually, they and others now suggest that the unintended consequences of mass fluoridation are coming due. This is illustrated by a recently published hypothesis that may explain fibromyalgia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

This science is not secret. It's in the medical literature, but somehow remains oddly out of reach of many public officials and other policymakers. Which brings up the question of respect.

With so much in doubt, where is the public process through which voters and customers have an opportunity to become informed? Why have democratic values not been applied to this issue of public significance?

Where is the environmental review analyzing the most recent science bearing on this proposal? How can a community's expectation of clean water be so thoroughly dismissed that not a single public meeting was scheduled?

These questions and others may be addressed to the Regulatory Commission via e-mail: keith-day@rca.state.ak.us or postal mail: RCA, 701 W. 8th Ave., Suite 300, Anchorage, Alaska 99501. Ph: 1(800)390-8727. Friday marks the end of the comment deadline.

Douglas Yates is a writer who lives in Ester.