Murky Water – Smithfield Times

Kaleigh Beale seeks high fluoride solutions from Carrsville

When Kaleigh Beale attended Carrsville Elementary School, she noticed something odd about her classmates.

Some of them had brown spots on their teeth.

“My parents always told me it was because of the water from the well they were drinking, but since we were using a water filter, my teeth wouldn’t get stained,” said Beale, now a college student. chemistry at Longwood University in Farmville.

After third grade, she moved with her parents to Chesapeake, where her new classmates’ teeth were unstained.

It wasn’t until her freshman year at Longwood that she learned what made the difference: fluoride.

“Fluoride is not a common water contaminant that people fear removing,” Beale said.

In fact, it’s added to most municipal water sources at low levels to help protect residents’ teeth from cavities. But it can also occur naturally in groundwater.

Water that contains too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis in children – the official term for the brown discoloration observed by Beale. Many Isle of Wight county residents get their drinking water from untreated private or municipal wells, making dental fluorosis a recurring problem.

According to an Isle of Wight county notice sent to users of its Carrsville well system, water serving the unincorporated community and former school in Beale was tested at 3.84 milligrams per liter of fluoride in 2020 – just below the legal limit of 4 mg/L set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Anything above 2 mg/L can lead to dental fluorosis in children 9 and under, he warns, while concentrations above 4 mg/L may increase the risk of developing bone disease later in life. . The World Health Organization recommends an even lower safety threshold, at 1.5 mg/L.

For his senior thesis, Beale is researching less expensive methods to test for fluoride and remove excess. Her work caught the attention of the Council on Undergraduate Research, which invited her to present at the ‘Posters on the Hill’ conference in April.

The conference will offer Beale the chance to connect with members of Congress, making her one of 60 undergraduate students nationwide chosen for the opportunity this year.

“I was one of four seniors (from Longwood) to apply for this conference and I was shocked to be the only one to receive an acceptance email,” she said.

Last semester, she worked with Dr. Sarah Porter to analyze county water samples using standard and alternative methods. Porter, a professor of analytical chemistry, is Beale’s adviser on the project.

In the city of Windsor, which operates two municipal wells and does not treat its water, Beale found fluoride levels of 3.2 mg/L at a public site and 3.8 mg/L at a residence. A residence in the unincorporated Zuni community was also tested at 3.8 mg/L. A commercial site in the town of Smithfield, which operates a reverse osmosis water treatment plant to remove excess fluoride and other contaminants, tested at 1.22 mg/L.

The water from her grandmother’s house, located about three miles outside Windsor, was tested at 5.3 mg/L – well above the legal limit. In the town of Farmville, where Longwood is located, tap water has been tested at 0.3 mg/L for fluoride.

The standard testing method, she explained, consists of a $375 probe and an electrode/pH meter that can cost between $150 and $1,500. Together, the devices are known as a fluoride ion-selective electrode.

“We excluded home test strips because they were highly inaccurate, and found holes in previous research methods using turmeric and curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric,” Beale said.

She then tried using a dye based on cyanine and zirconium, which changes color depending on the concentration of fluoride in the water sample. This method has yielded “promising results”, she said.

This semester, she turned to lower-cost fluoride removal options, experimenting with the filtering properties of carbon and aluminum.

While water pitchers advertised specifically to filter out excess fluoride “are not commonly produced,” Beale said, she and Porter tested several water filters and found that “the Amazon Basics brand actually removes fluoride. “.

The average under-sink fluorine filter, by comparison, costs $200 and can go for more than $600, Beale said. Some also only remove fluoride, chlorine and lead, leaving the consumer exposed to other possible contaminants.

“While the Isle of Wight County is near and dear to my heart, and my inspiration for this project, fluoride contamination of water is a global problem with significant problems in India,” Beale said. . “A lower-cost method would benefit my local community and low-income communities around the world.”

“I am extremely honored to have been chosen to present at the Posters on the Hill conference in April, and I could not have come this far without the support of Longwood faculty members, especially my research advisor , Dr. Sarah Porter,” she said. added. “My primary focus throughout this project has been to help members of a community that has given so much to me and my family, and I am overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of making a difference. “

After graduating this spring, Beale plans to take a year off before applying to medical school and returning to the Hampton Roads area to become a certified emergency medical technician. She hopes to eventually become a pediatric emergency physician.

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