Should the city of Aspen continue the practice of adding fluoride to its drinking-water supply? Or, should it simply lower its fluoride-to-water ratio based on Environmental Protection Agency suggestions?
These are the questions facing the Aspen City Council at Monday night’s regular meeting.
C.J. Oliver, the city’s environmental health director, said in a memorandum Tuesday to the council that the issue is whether the city should add fluoride as “a public health protection measure” or give responsibility to local residents to make their own decisions about fluoride intake, adding it to their diet when they believe it appropriate.
At a work session in September, the council heard a wide range of opinions about the benefits and risks of fluoride. For example, Oliver’s memo points out that fluoride reduces the risk of cavities but that too much of it can increase the risk of dental fluorosis — various degrees of tooth discoloration — and bone fractures.
In addition, various studies and claims have raised the possibility that excess fluoride might increase the risk of rare bone cancers and can even lead to a lower IQ, “but there is no support for these effects based on existing science,” Oliver wrote.
In January 2011, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed a recommendation that water districts decrease the amount of fluoride to the lowest amount expected to help reduce cavities, or 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. Currently, the city adds fluoride to the natural amount that already exists in the water supply to achieve a level of 1 to 1.1 milligrams of fluoride per liter.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, 515 water systems in Colorado are classified as nonfluoridated, while 196 systems are listed as fluoridated through natural means. Fifty systems, such as Aspen and Snowmass Village, use natural fluoride but adjust the levels through additives to meet a certain standard.
Oliver’s memo quotes the CDC as such: “For 65 years, community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay. CDC has recognized water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
In Aspen, the issue is not driven by cost considerations, Oliver wrote. The annual cost to the Water Department is about $13,000, which doesn’t include staff time. “That amount of money could provide funding for fluoride-containing toothpastes, mouth rinses, tablets and treatments for people without adequate dental care in the event that council chooses to terminate the fluoride program,” he wrote.
At the September council gathering, Dr. Tom Lankering, a Basalt chiropractor, called the addition of fluoride in the water “mass medication without consent.” But Dr. David Swersky, a dentist, said he has seen the benefits in children’s teeth, especially those who do not receive regular dental services, and recommended the 0.7-milligram level.
Oliver has prepared two resolutions for the council, one that would reduce the amount of fluoride to the 0.7-milligram level based on the EPA/HHS recommendation and one that stops adding fluoride to the water supply altogether.