Years Old Mechanical Issue Halts Fluoridation of Yorktown's Water

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AMAWALK, N.Y. – A four-year-old mechanical issue has shut down Yorktown’s supply of fluoridated drinking water.

Equipment problems halted water fluoridation last week and were expected to keep the cavity-fighting chemical out of the water supply until early 2019, the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works said in a statement.

In the meantime, residents generally—and especially the parents of young children—are being urged to consider fluoride supplements or other steps to offset loss of the chemical protection.

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Dr. Carl H. Tegtmeier of Mount Kisco, an outspoken advocate of fluoridation, said babies and children benefit dramatically from early application. “As the teeth form in their jaws, the fluoride is incorporated into the enamel and it makes it much less susceptible to cavities,” he said.

“If they’re not getting fluoride for a couple of years, it will show up in their getting more cavities,” said Tegtmeier, who is chairman of the five-county 9th District Dental Association’s Dental Health Committee.

The Northern Westchester Joint Water Works, established in 1995, serves Somers, Yorktown, Cortlandt and the Montrose Improvement District. Among other things, it treats drinking water with fluoride, optimally at a ratio of 0.7 parts per million gallons of tap water.

The fluoridation plant serving about a third of Yorktown and all of Somers—the Amawalk Water Treatment Facility—does not have a mechanical problem. But a second Water Works plant—the Catskill Water Treatment Facility in Cortlandt, which provides the other two-thirds of Yorktown’s tap water—has been having problems for almost four years.

“The fluoride feed system at our Catskill Facility has been off line since January 2013,” the Water Works said last week in a prepared statement, “and under engineering review for an upgrade.” Matthew Geho, the Works operations director, was not immediately available to expand on the statement.

But Tegtmeier said Yorktown’s fluoridated Amawalk output mixed with the untreated Catskill supply, making it impossible to estimate fluoride levels in the water or calculate the strength of alternative solutions that dentists could prescribe.

“We had no idea, day to day, who was getting what level, and so there were suboptimal levels of fluoridation going on,” Tegtmeier said. “Somers was probably getting the optimal level, but as it came across Yorktown going to the west, people were not getting it.”

By removing all fluoride, he said, dentists will have a uniform standard against which to prescribe preventive measures.

Westchester health officials decided—and dentists agreed—that it was better to eliminate fluoride completely on a temporary basis so proper supplements could be prescribed.

“There’s no other way to do it,” Tegtmeier said. “Some days you’re getting the right amount [of fluoride in the tap water]; other days, you’re not.”  

Tegtmeier insists fluoride “does prevent cavities. You’re looking at probably a 20 to 30 percent reduction in cavities, which is significant.”

A state study, Tegtmeier said, compared the oral health of youngsters in Westchester, where 85 percent of the public water has been fluoridated, with those in Rockland, where no water has been treated.

“The kids in Rockland had twice as much dental work done,” he said.

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