Without mentioning it to residents for nearly two years, the Sewerage & Water Board quit adding cavity-fighting fluoride to New Orleans' drinking water supply after Hurricane Katrina and has not restarted because of a supply shortage.
S&WB Executive Director Marcia St. Martin said Wednesday that the agency got cut off from its supply chain because of Katrina and has been unable to resume deliveries because of a subsequent dearth of fluoride nationwide.
She said the water board, which started adding fluoride to tap water in 1974, did not notify the public because officials believed they would find a supplier.
"It's not something we brought a lot of attention to," she said in an interview. "We constantly thought we had a solution. In the last several weeks, we realized we're not finding a supplier, no matter how much we try."
Further, St. Martin said dental health guidelines are not based on the fluoride content of drinking water, so residents who follow those rules would not be affected by a lack of the compound flowing through their faucets.
"If you listen to the American Dental Association, the recommendation is that you always buy fluoride toothpaste, whether you have fluoride in the water or not," she said.
However, an official with the state Department of Health and Hospitals who met with water board administrators and other dental and health professionals Wednesday to discuss the fluoride deficiency said the water board could have spread the news earlier.
"I think that maybe the physicians and dentists could have been notified, if not the public. They could have been prescribing supplements," including drops and pills aimed at boosting fluoride intake in children, said Sheri Sison, manager of the Office of Public Health's oral health program.
"People could have been a little more hypervigilant," she said, though she said she did not believe S&WB officials acted with negligence.
In addition to New Orleans, five water plants in Plaquemines Parish, plus five others across the state, have not resumed adding fluoride to their drinking water since the storm, according to the health department, which tracks fluoridation as an "optional" water treatment. Plaquemines officials could not be reached Wednesday.
Meanwhile, 21 other systems, including those in Jefferson, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, have restarted the process, said Lauren Mendes, a health department spokeswoman. St. Tammany, which draws much of its drinking water through wells, does not use fluoride, a public works official said.
Why must S&WB turn this office into a house of lies?