The Carroll Boone Water District (CBWD) board will meet at 10 a.m. April 19 to consider proceeding with fluoridation of public drinking water despite not having sufficient grants to cover start-up costs. The board will discuss whether to use district funds to implement fluoridation.
State legislation passed in 2011 mandated fluoridation of all water systems with more than 5,000 customers and specified that money for fluoridation equipment had to be obtained from outside grants, not tax money or user fees.
Delta Dental, an oral health insurance company, pushed for the mandatory fluoridation law in the legislature, and grants from the Delta Dental Foundation were supposed to be used to pay for the fluoridation equipment. But DDF underestimated what it would cost.
Delta Dental has reportedly offered CBWD about $763,000, while the cost estimated by engineers to institute fluoridation for the district that serves 25,000 people, including residents of Eureka Springs, Berryville and Harrison, is $1.23 million.
James Yates of Harrison, president of the CBWD board, said he has to follow state law requiring fluoridation.
“My feeling, personal or otherwise, doesn’t apply to the board,” Yates said. “I have no control over what the health department does. We can’t just come up and say, ‘Look, this is bad, guys. We aren’t going to do it.’ They have told us to do it.
“They are the ones who tell us what we have to do. If the state mandates we have to put fluoride in our water and the people managing the grants make a statement that we are only entitled to so much money for startup costs because they won’t cover certain things, we are going to do it right.
“We are not going to put any of our employees at risk. If they say we have to do it and the law mandates we do it, we will do it the safest and most effective way for both employees and customers. That is our number one priority.”
Last Monday, State Rep. Bryan King (R-Green Forest) obtained an opinion from the State of Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research that said: “You asked whether the Carroll Boone Water District is obligated to pay for fluoride implementation under Act 197 of 2011 even if grant funds fall short. The answer is probably ‘No’.
“Under subsection (d)(1) of Act 197 of 2011, codified at Arkansas Code § 20-7-136, water systems are not required to implement the law until funds are available from some source other than taxes or fees regularly collected by the water system. Unless non-tax, no-fee funds are available for capital start up costs, the water system is not required to carry out any of the requirements of the act. That is, unless the capital costs are covered by some outside funds, the water system is not required to maintain the fluoride levels established by the Department of Health under the act.”
King said he did not vote for the fluoride mandate in the Public Health Committee or on the House floor, and the majority of constituents who have contacted him oppose fluoridation.
“Concerns have come from all over the political spectrum,” King said. “Usually in Carroll County it is liberal versus conservative, or the east side of the river against the west side of river. But this issue has raised a lot of concerns all over the county. A lot of people just don’t like the mandate, that they aren’t able to decide themselves whether they should fluoridate or not. There have been some people who are supportive of it, but the majority of people who have contacted me have been opposed to it for a wide variety of reasons.”
King said he wouldn’t be surprised to see an effort in the next legislative session to overturn the mandate. Opponents said it was rushed through in seven days without an opportunity for adequate public comment.
Fluoride added to drinking water is a controversial subject, with the official government position being that it saves money by preventing cavities. Opponents say it can cause health problems such as hypothyroidism, heart disease and learning disabilities in children.
A recent study by the CDC showed 41 percent of children aged 12 to 15 were over-fluoridated, with resulting irreversible damage to their teeth from dental fluorosis.
The Arkansas Department of Health recently set fluoride limits at the level the CDC said could cause fluorosis, rather than at the lower level now recommended by the CDC.
Arkansas allows up to 1.2 milligrams per liter as opposed to the CDC’s recommendation of an amount nearly half that level, .7 milligrams per liter.
The health department also denied that lead leaching could be an issue in Eureka Springs, which has twice voted against fluoridation.
The city’s contract with CBWD forbids the introduction of corrosive water into the city’s drinking water supply. Concerns have been raised by the 12 employees at the Carroll Boone Water District (CBWD) that the corrosive nature of fluoride could leach lead from water distribution systems in historic cities like Eureka Springs.
That has happened in other areas of the country, like Washington D.C., leading to excessive levels of lead in children and pregnant women. According to the CDC, lead causes developmental delays in children, damages kidneys and the nervous system, and interferes with red blood cell chemistry.
The EPA said in 1995 that 69 million people served by 4,167 community water systems in the U.S. exceeded the lead action levels due to corrosive water.
The corrosiveness of fluoride has also been shown to damage water system equipment. Poughkeepsie’s Joint Water Board in Dutchess County, N.Y., discontinued use of fluoride after 18 months due to damage to equipment, according to Citizens for Safe Drinking Water.
It is possible that later on grant funds will become available to implement mandatory fluoridation. DDF has announced plans to try to raise an additional $10 million to pay for fluoridation startup costs statewide, but if CBWD accepts the $763,000 grant currently offered, they would not be eligible to receive any more funding from DDF.
“While the benefits of fluoridation may be debatable, the cost factor is certainly not,” said CBWD operator René Fonseca. “Those of us who work at the CBWD plant believe there are other more important priorities for infrastructure improvements.
“The West Plant has run 24 hours a day for the past 30 years. It needs money for rehabilitation. Plans for a $1-million-plus parallel pipeline we need for future growth has been put on hold for over a year. These needs are a higher priority than adding fluoridation equipment.”
Fonseca said that if the district is forced to proceed with fluoridation, changes will have to be made in its engineering to add chemicals to help with corrosion control.
Currently water leaves the plant at a neutral pH of about 7.2. Adding fluoride would make the water more acidic, and chemicals would have to be added to bring the pH back up. This would involve a new engineering study that would include how to add more chemicals, which would cost money; and adding anti-corrosive chemicals would also raise the yearly costs of fluoridation.
According to a letter explaining terms of the grant, by accepting money from DDF, CBWD has to agree to fluoridate the water for at least 10 years, or pay back a pro-rated share if fluoridation is stopped.
Employees of the CBWD are on record as being opposed to fluoridation on the grounds that some studies show adverse health effects from drinking fluoridated water; equipment can be damaged by the highly corrosive chemicals; and the chemicals are highly hazardous to workers.
Operators have also raised concerns about recent studies showing the sodium fluorosilicate additive contained 17 trace elements of a toxic nature including lead, arsenic, and thorium, a radionuclide.
“These are extremely dangerous substances,” Fonseca said. “The acute lethal toxicity of sodium fluorosilicate for an adult man is 6.2 grams, which is about the weight of an average driver’s license. At a water plant the size of CBWD, you would be dumping 150 pounds a day into the water — enough oral doses to poison 9,600 men a day or 297,000 men a month. This is not pharmaceutical grade fluoride, as you would receive in the dental office.”
Fonseca said operators, who are well trained and must pass licensing tests, will stand firm about refusing to add this substance to the water unless there is proper disclosure as required by law. He said it appears there are no domestic suppliers of the fluoride additives, so CBWD will search for foreign sources.
“Who wouldn’t want to know the amount of radionuclides in a product?” Fonseca asked. “If you buy even a candy bar in a store, you get a list of ingredients. Shouldn’t we know what we are putting in our drinking water?