Wellington fluoride shutdown followed overdosing at one plant

Wellington Water soldiered on with a faulty piece of equipment for four years before overdosing a batch of drinking water with fluoride then having to drain the tank and stop fluoridating the city’s water.

“I’m just floored” said Wellington City councillor Sean Rush, who chairs the infrastructure committee, is the council’s liaison with Wellington Water, but only found out about the faulty equipment and overdosing in the past week. He believed he “absolutely” should have been told earlier.

Wellington Water has commissioned an independent inquiry into its fluoride debacle that saw Te Marua water treatment plant stop fluoridating drinking water last May and Gear Island in November but the public only told about it last week. Before that, fluoride levels had been inconsistent for four years. The council has two other treatment plants, at Wainuiomata and Waterloo.

Wellington Water confirmed to Rush fluoride dosing equipment at Gear Island went faulty four years ago and needed “a lot more manual TLC” to do the job since then.

This led to an error in which too much fluoride was added to a tank. The problem was caught before the water went out to people’s taps but the entire tank needed to be drained.

He did not know the exact timing of this nor the size of the tank at the Gear Island water treatment plant, which supplements the water supply to central Wellington, as well as southern and eastern suburbs.

Te Marua water treatment plant in Upper Hutt was one of the two plants to stop fluoridating.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF
Te Marua water treatment plant in Upper Hutt was one of the two plants to stop fluoridating.

He was “flabbergasted” that Wellington Water was nursing the plant through and hadn’t replaced the equipment.

He understood the overdosing and stopping fluoridating were unrelated but Deputy Mayor Sarah Free confirmed fluoride was shut down after one tank had too much added. Checks and balances were in place to catch the error and the tank was drained.

“They were afraid of overdosing,” she said.

There are obviously questions that need to be answered,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Sarah Free confirmed Wellington Water overdosed a batch of water with fluoride and had to ditch it.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF
Deputy Mayor Sarah Free confirmed Wellington Water overdosed a batch of water with fluoride and had to ditch it.

Free confirmed she was told of the overdosing at a recent briefing with Wellington Water.

Otago University associate professor Jonathan Broadbent, who works in dental public health and epidemiology, said excessive fluoride was unlikely to cause health issues. People could get higher does from swallowing toothpaste or eating food with high levels of fluoride.

But chronic – recurring over a long time – exposure could cause problems.

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, who had the council’s public health portfolio before it was abolished, said it was time Wellington Water put all facts in front of the public.

Wellington City Councillor Sean Rush confirmed the overdosing did happen but did not think this is why Wellington Water stopped fluoridating water.
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF
Wellington City Councillor Sean Rush confirmed the overdosing did happen but did not think this is why Wellington Water stopped fluoridating water.

“This is not the time to withhold any further information,” she said.

“This drip feeding of information gives me no confidence that they take their responsibilities seriously.”

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Wellington Water network management group manager Jeremy McKibbon on Sunday said there was no requirement to achieve a minimum level of fluoridation in the drinking water standards but there were standards for a maximum acceptable concentration.

Ministry of Health guidelines say fluoride should be between 0.7 and one part per million.

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