COMPTON – Although the jury is still out on the overall safety of adding fluoride to drinking water, the city could soon take up the common practice.
The water department is applying for a grant through First 5 LA that, if received, the city could use in the future if it decides to fluoridate, said Kambiz Shoghi, director of the Compton Municipal Water Department. But Arceneaux is still concerned.
First 5 LA is a county child advocacy organization created by California voters in the 1990s. Its aim is to improve the lives of children ages prenatal through 5 through the investment of tobacco tax revenues into various programs.
The group has earmarked $20 million to fund countywide water fluoridation infrastructure equipment, construction and related public education materials, according to an April 15 staff report.
The grant money, if awarded, will be used to purchase the requisite equipment to properly add and monitor fluoridation levels, Shoghi said.
Fluoride is a natural element that already exists in groundwater supplies in minute amounts. It hardens tooth enamel, strengthening teeth and preventing cavities. Municipalities have been adding it to water supplies since 1945.
California lawmakers in 1995 signed AB733, which requires all public water systems with 10,000 or more service connections to fluoridate their systems.
Dr. Eugene Sekiguchi, a dentist and professor of dental science at the University of Southern California, believes fluoridation is a matter of public health. According to him, dental disease and cavities are the No. 1 disease in children and are the main reason children miss school and adults miss work.
Additionally, many dental ailments can lead to more serious health issues. Gum disease, for example, can be directly linked to heart disease.
“Fluoridating the rest of Compton’s water supply is very important,” he said.
Dentist Maritza C. Cabezas, who works for the county public health department, agrees.
“We’re not adding anything new. Fluoride is already in water. It is in every water that you drink. Some have a lot, some have a little, but any water from anywhere has fluoride,” she said. “It’s something that’s naturally there.”
Cabezas cited a several years old countywide survey that she said illustrates the need to ensure all drinking water in the county is fluoridated. According to that study, 30 percent of kindergarteners have tooth decay. By third grade, that number more than doubles to 70 percent.
“We have a huge problem. This whole county has a problem with decay, and fluoride works,” she continued. “It’s hard to see those kids in school in pain.”
Water fluoridation is even haled by the Centers for Disease Control as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
But too much fluoride can be toxic. Although levels in drinking water are considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency and are recommended by such groups as the American Dental and American Medical associations, it is additional exposure that many experts are worried about.
Besides being artificially added to some water supplies, fluoride is found in many dental products like toothpaste. Additionally, it is present in trace amounts in many foods and beverages including hot dogs, cheddar cheese, flour tortillas, russet potatoes, chicken broth, raisins, chocolate ice cream, white wine, beer, milk, diet Coke and brewed teas.
According to a January article in Science American, recent studies suggest that overconsumption of fluoride might increase the risk of tooth, brain, bone and thyroid disorders. In the 1990s, studies revealed that in lab rats, neurological and behavioral disorders like hyperactivity and laziness can be linked to high exposure levels both before and after birth.
Furthermore, a 2001 study conducted by Elise Bassin DDS for her doctoral thesis at Harvard found that boys who grew up in areas where at least moderate levels of fluoride were added to the water supply were more likely to develop osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
The optimal daily intake of fluoride ranges from .05 to .07 milligram per every kilogram of body weight, according to a 2006 report by a National Research Council (NRC) committee. This amount was determined to adequately protect teeth while minimizing other health risks. The NRC found that eating certain foods like those listed above could put a person’s diet above the daily recommended range.
For this reason, the 2006 report recommended the federal government lower its limit on fluoride in drinking water because of potential health risks to both children and adults.
These were some of the issues brought up by Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, who recently raised questions about the practice of fluoridation.
`“There are other sources of fluoride, and we may be getting more than is allowed by the EPA through other sources, and cumulatively with the water intake and these other sources, it could pose a threat,” said Arceneaux. “It’s something I think we need to monitor very closely.”
Currently, only a portion of the city’s water is artificially fluoridated. The city purchases roughly 40 – 50 percent of its water from the Metropolitan Water District, which began fluoridating in 2007. The water the city extracts from the underground water table is not, and this would be the water the city would fluoridate if it decided to move in that direction, said Shoghi, head of the water department.
“Shoghi told The Bulletin that currently no concrete plans exist to add fluoride to the city’s water supply. Applying for the grant is his way of being financially prepared in case the Council decides to move in that direction in the future.
USC’s Sekigushi insists that fluoride has been proven to be safe and effective.
“It’s been in use for over 50 years. There always seems to be concern about the safety of fluoride, but there are literally 50 years worth of studies in support of the use of fluoride.”