BISHOPVILLE – Water – it runs from every spigot, every faucet, every shower head. And in Bishopville, it soon will become more natural.
At the end of June, Bishopville will discontinue adding fluoride to its water, a practice that started more than 30 years ago.
The American Dental Association began promoting adding fluoride to town water supplies to fight tooth loss. But because there has been data showing fluoride both harms and helps teeth, controversy has swirled about the mineral.
Mike Deas, the Bishopville utility director, got curious one day and started studying its effects.
“I started to do some research, and I started to read all these things where fluoride could be dangerous,” Deas said.”I started thinking, what if 20 years from now, it turns out that fluoride is harmful, and we didn’t stop using it? What would they think of us?”
Needed by the body in trace amounts, fluoride helps the body retain calcium required for bone and tooth development. But research, Deas found, pointed to long-term problems and diseases resulting from drinking water containing fluoride.
Some studies show a link between fluoridation and hip fractures. One study shows a 5 percent increase in cancers in communities that add fluoride to the water.
Deas said he was braced for backlash when the decision was announced, but he hasn’t received one phone call or visit. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has no official opinion and allows towns and water companies to make their own decision on fluoride.
“There is no requirement that anyone use it,” said Ronny Rentz, the director for DHEC’s Wateree District. “I don’t know what the general feeling is, to be honest.”
The South Carolina Board of Dentistry has never issued an opinion on fluoride use, either.
The Item contacted both dentists in Bishopville, and both declined to comment.
Also, several European countries including France, Germany, Austria and Luxembourg either never used fluoride or have stopped using it.
Locally, Sumter uses fluoride while Manning never has added it.
“The only thing we add to our water is chlorine for disinfectant,’ said Rubin Hardy, public works director for Manning.
Al Harris, director of public services for Sumter, doesn’t plan on getting rid of fluoride any time soon.
“There’s some controversy on it as it is with any chemical; but right now, we plan to probably leave it in for a while,” Harris said.
The American Dental Association has maintained that fluoride is a key component of dental care.
The ADA cites study after study that shows that adding fluoride to the water supply is an effective means of helping tooth growth in poorer communities.
Still, Deas said he believes the people of Bishopville could be better served by fluoride through other sources.
While the most common source of fluoride is water, it is also in meats such as liver and kidneys; fish and seafood, including canned sardines; and apples, grape juice, eggs and tea.
Additionally, much of the fluoride Bishopville adds to the water gets returned to the environment. Once in the environment, it is considered a contaminant and has to be regulated.
Deas estimates that less than one-tenth of a percent of Bishopville’s water is actually consumed. Lee County has several industries and farms that use water for irrigation and industrial purposes.
After reviewing the situation, Deas has come to one conclusion.
“If they could prove we knew it was harmful and didn’t do anything about it, the lawsuits could wipe out a town like this,” he said.