Anchorage

Mayor Bronson temporarily shut off fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply, against city code

After a spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson denied it happened, the mayor’s office said Tuesday that Bronson temporarily halted fluoridation of the city’s water supply for about five hours during an Oct. 1 visit to Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility’s Eklutna Water Treatment Plant. City law requires the city’s water supply be fluoridated.

A statement from the mayor’s office on Tuesday said Bronson made the decision after hearing workplace safety concerns from AWWU staff.

”Information was presented to the Mayor’s team that pausing the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water would not violate federal or state law and didn’t violate Municipal Charter. To protect the health and safety of AWWU staff, it was decided by the Mayor to halt the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply and to further investigate these concerns with the Assembly,” the mayor’s office said. “Later that afternoon, the Mayor’s Office determined Municipal Code requires the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply. The Mayor’s Office immediately informed AWWU leadership to resume fluoridation of the Muni’s water.”

The mayor’s office has not answered a question about who presented the information to the mayor’s team.

The mayor’s statement comes a day after Anchorage Assembly leaders launched an inquiry into allegations in an article published by the Alaska Landmine over the weekend, including that Bronson and his administration shut down fluoridation of the city water supply.

Assembly leaders asked members of Bronson’s administration for information and public records related to the fluoride incident and other allegations by 6 p.m. Tuesday, and as of Tuesday evening, nothing but the statement had been received, according to the Assembly’s legislative liaison.

The mayor’s office did not respond to questions from the Daily News about the incident for more than a day, eventually sending a statement late Tuesday afternoon. His spokesman, Corey Allen Young, told the Landmine that the allegation about fluoride was false and “did not happen” before the website published the story over the weekend. Young again told Alaska Public Media that all the allegations were false on Monday.

On Tuesday, Young told the Daily News it did happen, and that the mayor had decided to turn off the fluoride during a visit to the utility. The spokesman then called back and said that it was AWWU’s general manager, Mark Corsentino, who asked the mayor to turn off the fluoride during Bronson’s visit.

Young said he was on leave when the Landmine story was published, that he was initially mistaken about the fluoride situation and that he didn’t then have the details or full information.

“It’s clear that the initial denial by the administration was inaccurate,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said Tuesday. “The press release states the previously denied event occurred on Oct. 1 and intended to ‘investigate these concerns with the Assembly.’ We have now begun the fact finding process and I share the Mayor’s desire to investigate these concerns. This process will unfold over the next weeks and months and will be thorough and comprehensive.”

City code stipulates Anchorage’s water supply must be fluoridated, comply with rules and standards under the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and be administered by state-certified water treatment operators. The code states that the manager of the utility is “authorized and directed to continue supplementing the fluoride content of the water supply.”

Fluoride in drinking water is effective, safe and reduces and controls tooth decay and promotes oral health, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The safety and benefits of fluoride have been well documented and reviewed comprehensively, the CDC says.

Most of the city’s drinking water comes from Eklutna Lake and is treated at a plant near there.

On Monday, Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and Constant sent two letters to members of the Bronson administration asking for information and public records, including emails, texts and voice messages, related to the article by the Landmine over the weekend.

If the claims in the article are true, they “would be of significant public concern and interest,” they said in one letter.

LaFrance and Constant asked the administration to provide any emails relating to other alleged incidents in the Landmine post by Tuesday at 6 p.m.. The other letter requested a response from Corsentino regarding the fluoride incident, also by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Corsentino did not return a call or respond to emailed questions from the Daily News on Monday.

Laura Achee, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said that the agency requires daily testing of the fluoride level and immediate notification if fluoride levels are too high, but does not require immediate reporting if fluoride levels are below normal levels. AWWU reports its daily test results to the department monthly, she said.

“As there is no state or federal requirement for fluoride to be added to drinking water, DEC would not take action due to fluoride not being added to Anchorage’s drinking water,” she said.

The state agency reviewed the reports from July through November and found that there were three periods when it appeared to be off, “ranging from a 10-day period in late July/early August to less than one day in October,” she said.

According to the statement from the mayor’s office, AWWU shuts down the fluoride system routinely for maintenance “for much longer intervals than what occurred on October 1.”

“In November, AWWU shutdown the fluoride system for several days to conduct maintenance on the system. Anchorage’s water supply remains safe for public consumption,” according to the mayor’s office.

The Landmine article, which the website said was based on multiple unnamed sources, contained a series of allegations. Another claim describes the mayor’s administration attempting to order Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy to instruct police officers to leave the Assembly chambers during a chaotic Oct. 7 meeting on a proposed mask ordinance. The article also asserts that Bronson ordered McCoy to send officers into a local medical facility to “rescue” a man sick with COVID-19 or to force medical workers to treat him with ivermectin.

By phone on Tuesday, Young said that the other two allegations are false.

During the Oct. 7 meeting, the administration ordered security guards to leave the chambers and a member of the administration removed a Plexiglas shield used by the Assembly for COVID-19 mitigation. An email from a city employee also described an attempt by Municipal Manager Amy Demboski to cut off the livestream of the meeting. LaFrance has previously said that the removal of security guards created a public safety issue.

McCoy abruptly announced his retirement in November. He is scheduled to retire in February. He did not provide reasons for his retirement and has declined multiple interview requests. McCoy did not respond to another request for comment on Monday.

“Assembly leadership is clearly concerned by what we’ve heard, and it would be very troubling if the allegations prove true,” LaFrance said in an interview Monday, before the mayor’s office acknowledged shutting off the fluoride. “And since the story became public this weekend, Assembly members have been hearing more and some similar stories from people close to municipal operations. So I don’t I don’t want to jump ahead until we have a response from the administration. But clearly, like with the fluoride, for example, that would be...like it says in the letter, to interfere with compliance with municipal code — it would be very worrisome if the administration is engaging in activities that interfere with the law.”

What the Assembly chooses to do next hinges on how the administration responds, LaFrance said.

“Assembly leadership is working closely with Assembly counsel to identify next steps,” LaFrance said in an interview.

Fluoridation of city water in Anchorage has been a political issue from time to time. In 2013, a group of residents pushed for the practice to stop. The Assembly voted 9-2 to continue it.


Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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