Shortages, price hikes taking a bite out of key fluoridation chemical
The chemical is fluorosilicic acid, also known as fluosilicic acid, hydrofluorosilicic acid or FSA. Utilities such as the city of Cleveland’s Division of Water have been struggling to locate dependable sources of the chemical.
“Our water quality manager is fighting with that very issue right now, on how and where to buy FSA,” Rolfe Porter, assistant commissioner of plant operations in the Cleveland Division of Water, told GovPro.com. “Other municipal water departments around the [United States] are facing the same challenge in getting FSA.”
The Cleveland Division of Water has seen the price of FSA rise 105 percent over the past two years, according to the American Water Works Association’s MainStream news service. What’s more, the Cleveland utility now can negotiate only one-year contracts with its FSA supplier, as opposed to two-year contracts in the past.
Making matters worse for the city of Cleveland, FSA suppliers no longer will bid on Cleveland contracts that include a performance bond.
Municipal water plants in other parts of North America, including New England, Tennessee and Canada, also have reported difficulties obtaining FSA and other fluoride chemicals. The city of Boulder, Colo.’s Water Resources Advisory Board mentioned potential disruptions in fluoride chemicals supplies in its May 21 meeting report, “Evaluation of Water Treatment Fluoridation Chemicals.”
Association offers valuable guidance
The Fluoride Standards Committee of the American Water Works Association has issued a set of recommendations for utilities that may be facing FSA shortages. The recommendations include seeking multiple sourcing with other suppliers and increasing order lead times for FSA during the high-temperature months.
The Cleveland Division of Water took the latter approach—it is now lengthening lead times for FSA deliveries—and for good reason. Earlier this year, the Cleveland utility found itself with just a day’s supply of FSA separating it from a bare cupboard.
YuJung Chang, Ph.D., urges GovPro.com readers to follow the recommendations of the American Water Works Association’s Fluoride Standards Committee. Chang is vice president and national technical director of water supply and treatment at HDR Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm headquartered in Omaha, Neb.
“I think the Fluoride Standards Committee’s recommendations are the best guidance for general utility managers or purchasing managers to follow. This is the collective opinion of the industry’s experts on this subject,” Chang told GovPro.com.
Fluoridation “one of the 10 great public health achievements”
How important is having fluoridated water in a community’s drinking supply? According to Kip Duchon, PE, national fluoridation engineer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Water fluoridation is one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century.
“Each dollar spent by a community on water fluoridation avoids about $38 in dental care costs,” Duchon said.
The CDC supports community efforts to fluoridate at a level that is optimal for oral health as recommended by the five most recent surgeons general.
“If a community is consistently fluoridating, a brief interruption of less than two months will probably not affect the community,” Duchon asserted. “But longer durations may result in an increased potential for residents to experience tooth decay.”
Closure of production facilities has hurt supplies
According to Duchon, the FSA shortage is a result of several factors: industry consolidation and the closure of several production facilities; more communities fluoridating (particularly in California); and increased demand for fluoride products for non-water-treatment applications.
“The largest FSA producer is experiencing production problems, and other producers are not able to pick up the slack in the short term,” Duchon told GovPro.com.
For the long term, Duchon explained: “New suppliers have entered the market, but it will take time for additional capacity to be realized.
“Although some improvement is expected by mid-2008, alleviation of all the current production limitations may take another one to three years,” Duchon said. “The CDC believes market influences will result in improving supplies as manufacturers respond to shortages.”
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water systems in the United States, also has been keeping a close eye on the situation.
“Obtaining adequate supplies … for public water systems has become increasingly more difficult,” Executive Director Diane VanDe Hei told GovPro.com. “Many of the larger water systems are looking into alternative sources of supply, and adding additional storage, plus giving consideration to alternative forms of the chemical.”
For a CDC fact sheet called “Temporary Shortages of Fluoridation Additives: FAQs,” click here.
To visit the American Water Works Association, click here.