Jeff Hand of Chatham is on a self-appointed mission to remove fluoride from public drinking water.
Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, has been added to water and toothpaste for more than 75 years to protect against tooth decay.
It works by re-mineralizing the enamel on tooth surfaces, thus preventing cavities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Most localities add small amounts of fluoride to drinking water. Hand wants them to stop.
“It’s proven to have more health concerns than benefits,” he told Chatham Town Council. “There is more evidence that fluoride is harmful rather than beneficial.”
Hand, a former modular and manufactured homes salesman, doesn’t live in the town and isn’t on public water. He lives in the Rondo area and has a well.
However, he has done a lot of research on fluoride.
“I’m just trying to present information,” Hand said. “I really believe the evidence is overwhelming, and once you take a look at it you will do the right thing. It’s in the public’s best interest to take it out.”
Chatham Town Council agreed to look at Hand’s information, mostly gleaned from the Internet, and seek advice from the Virginia Department of Health.
Public Works Director Bob Hanson said the health department generally recommends using fluoride and paid for fluoridation equipment at the town’s water treatment plant.
According to Hanson, it costs about $3.50 per person a year to add fluoride to Chatham’s water supply. Chatham has used fluoride since the 1970s.
Jeffrey S. Wells, field director with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water in Danville, assured town council Monday night that fluoride is safe.
“There is a lot of misinformation on websites,” Wells said. “The information we put our faith in comes from the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services, and EPA.”
Wells also noted that fluoridation has been endorsed by the American Dental Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization, and U.S. Surgeon General.
The health department also sent Chatham a letter supporting fluoridation.
“Community water fluoridation is implemented as a public health measure to prevent tooth decay,” the letter says. “This department strongly encourages the town to continue the addition of fluoride to the drinking water as part of its treatment plant operations.”
According to Wells, 95 percent of public water systems in Virginia use fluoridation. Danville, Gretna, Martinsville, Henry County, South Boston, Lynchburg, and Campbell County all fluoridate their water.
Hand also has taken his concerns to the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Danville City Council, and his native Clarksville.
About 75 percent of public water in the United States is fluoridated while in Europe, only Ireland, Poland, Serbia, Spain, and the United Kingdom add fluoride to water.
Most developed countries, including Japan and 97 percent of the western European population, do not consume fluoridated water.
Hand said a growing number of major U.S. cities, including Dallas, Texas, and Portland, Ore., have stopped fluoridating water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, which named water fluoridation one the “Ten Great Public Health Interventions of the 20th Century,” almost all water contains some naturally occurring fluoride, but usually at levels too low to prevent tooth decay.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed new recommendations for community water fluoridation, noting that sources of fluoride — namely toothpastes, mouth rinses, and professionally applied fluoride products — have increased since guidelines were first proposed in the early 1960s.
The department convened a panel of scientists and proposed reducing the recommended level for community water systems from 1.2 milligrams per liter to 0.7 milligrams per liter.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for fluoride in drinking water is 4.0 milligrams per liter.
The Centers for Disease Control and EPA acknowledge that fluoride, especially in excessive amounts, has health risks.
For example, children under age 8 and younger exposed to excessive amounts of fluoride have an increased chance of developing pits in tooth enamel. Bottle-fed babies may be at the highest risk.
Excessive consumption of fluoride over a lifetime may increase the likelihood of bone fractures, and may result in effects on bone leading to pain and tenderness, a condition called skeletal fluorosis, which is rare in the U.S.
The watchdog group Fluoridealert.org believes adding fluoride to public water supplies is a bad medical practice and unethical.
“Informed consent is standard practice for all medication, and one of the key reasons why most of Western Europe has ruled against fluoridation,” its website says. “With water fluoridation we are allowing governments to do to whole communities (forcing people to take a medicine irrespective of their consent) what individual doctors cannot do to individual patients.”
Critics point out that it’s impossible to control how much fluoride a person consumes because people drink different amounts of water. The fluoride goes to everyone regardless of age, health or vulnerability.
They also note that the benefits of fluoride in preventing tooth decay are mostly topical, meaning there is no need to swallow fluoride.
“Since the purported benefit of fluoride is topical, and the risks are systemic, it makes more sense to deliver the fluoride directly to the tooth in the form of toothpaste,” said Fluoridealert.org.
“Since swallowing fluoride is unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, there is no justification for forcing people (against their will) to ingest fluoride through their water supply.”
Opponents also claim that fluoride lowers IQ and causes brain damage, affects thyroid function, causes arthritic symptoms, and damages bone.