SANDY — Sandy officials did not report to Utah regulators fluoride levels in drinking water nearly 40 times the federal limit for 16 days and did not provide them with a written report on the contamination or proof the malfunctioning equipment is permanently shut down.

Details of those alleged violations are part of an administrative order issued to Sandy city officials on March 4 by the Utah Division of Drinking Water and obtained by the Deseret News in a government records request.

Sandy is required to file a written response by March 9 and has 30 days to appeal.

Late Thursday, the city issued a statement in response.

“We have been working closely with the Division of Environmental Quality from the beginning and we were prepared for their administrative order. Mayor (Kurt) Bradburn welcomes all levels of scrutiny in regards to this incident. This administrative order’s findings are just one of the many independent investigations being conducted that will help us understand what occurred and improvements that need to be made. We will methodically work through the regulations outlined in the order to meet the requirements of our state and federal partners.”

Thousands of emails obtained in a records request also reveal a state environmental scientist warned Sandy Public Utilities Director Tom Ward on Feb. 8 that elevated levels of copper and lead could be a concern due to an inadvertent release of fluoride concentrate, but the city waited a week to make a public announcement.

Ward has since been placed on administrative leave.

The administrative order, a legal document that is now on file with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cites Sandy in violation of the maximum contaminant level of 4 miligrams per liter.

A Sandy water sample taken on Feb. 7 but not provided to the state until Feb. 23 showed a fluoride level of 151.5 miligrams per liter.

The administrative order also includes a public notice violation because the city's efforts did not comply with requirements state drinking water director Marie Owens gave to Sandy on Feb. 8.

"These violations are serious and constitute a considerable risk to public health," Owens wrote in a letter accompanying the order to Bradburn.

A power outage caused by a Feb. 5 snowstorm led to a malfunction of a fluoride injector at the Paradise Valley Fluoridation Facility. The concentrate was dispensed to an area of the city absent any well water and by the next day, Sandy began receiving multiple taste and odor complaints, "including notification that an infant had been medically treated," according to the order.

Documents show 15 gallons of 25 percent fluoride solution entered the city's distribution system starting Feb. 5, and because of continued snow on Feb. 6, employees were allowed to leave early and did not perform a routine, daily maintenance check of the fluoride facility.

By Feb. 8, the state environmental scientist provided Ward with an academic case study of a "hyperfluoridation event" that showed peak fluoride levels at 51 parts per million, causing substantially high levels of copper in a municipal water supply due to acidification of the water, according to one of the emails.

During a subsequent conference call that day, according to the order, Sandy employees said sampling data indicated the impacted area was confined to 50 homes.

"The director expressed concerns over the determination of the perimeter of impact and potential ongoing metals contamination due to corrosion," according to the order.

Owens then provided the city with a template for specific written public notification with mandatory language and directed officials to expand the impacted area by three times beyond the scope of the initial area.

On Feb. 8, Ward emailed a copy of the notification order to Owens, but after the business day concluded. The copy did not include the mandatory language of a "do not ingest" warning. Owens said she thought it was a cover letter and did not find out until much later that it was the actual notice that was distributed to residents.

On Feb. 9, the state scientist once again warned Ward about the possibility of elevated levels of copper, according to an email obtained in the records request.

“Mike said there was a report of a kid peeing in a toilet and the water turning blue. As in the attached report, my thought is that it is from copper that was stripped from the interior plumbing. This is why ongoing metals testing is important. The affected homes could have elevated levels of lead and copper," the state employee wrote in an email.

The order issued to Sandy details that contaminant levels in the drinking water from Feb. 7 were:

• Copper ranging from 3,040 to 28,800 micrograms per liter, compared to an action level threshold of 1,300 micrograms per liter.

• Lead levels ranging from 18 to 394 micrograms per liter, compared to standard of 15 micrograms per liter.

• Arsenic levels ranging from 16.8 micrograms per liter to 34 micrograms per liter, compared to a federal threshold of 10 micrograms per liter.

Sandy was assessed 50 points per each of the violations issued by the state, triggering the administrative order.

Under the directive, Sandy must collect 60 water samples every quarter, including 30 samples systemwide and 30 samples from impacted zones, and conduct a corrosion control study within 90 days.

View Comments

Within 20 days, the city must provide an illness report with data collected from the county health department and the Utah Poison Control Center.

Although Sandy officials initially thought the contamination was confined to a 50-home area, sampling by Feb. 23 had expanded the area to include 1,509 home and schools.

Owens identified five homes that need further mitigation and monitoring.

Correction: Tom Ward is Sandy's director of public utilities. A previous version said he was director of public works.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.