Officials probing cause of Orange County water crisis

(Steve Sbraccia | CBS North Carolina)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Officials are investigating how last week’s water crisis in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County came to be.

Orange Water and Sewer Authority officials say that the system that automatically adds fluoride to the area’s water somehow failed.

The fluoride is usually added to prevent tooth decay. But Thursday morning, monitors detected a major problem: too much of the chemical was being added to the water.

“That was detected because we monitor the weight of the fluoride, which is a liquid, in storage,” said OWASA spokesman Greg Feller. “That’s how we identified the overfeed very quickly.”

The plant immediately stopped pumping water into the system. OWASA then asked Durham to add supplemental water into the their system. That worked fine till a major pipeline broke on Friday causing the do-not-drink order.

As crews worked to repair the broken pipe, engineers were flushing the over-fluoridated water from the treatment plant.

“We had to empty out areas of the plant where there was water with high fluoride was to make sure it was safe to operate the plant again,” Feller said.

Outside consultants are being brought in to figure out why too much chemical was dumped in the system.

Those responsible for running the system say they’ll send a preliminary report to the OWASA Board of Directors this Thursday and follow that up with a full report once they figure out how too much fluoride got into the system.

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