Au GRES — Residents and interested parties packed Au Gres City Hall April 9 during the city council’s regular meeting to express their views and concerns on fluoridated water.
The city council voted not to fund any fluoride-related expansion of the existing water plant during a special meeting March 12, and many people attended this week’s meeting to show their support for the council’s decision or to speak out against it.
Several people said they would like to see the issue put before the public as a ballot proposal, giving the citizens of Au Gres the choice on whether or not they would like fluoride in the water system.
Dentist Andrew Dwan attended the meeting, and said he had helped push for bringing fluoridated water to Standish, where the council was reticent. They ultimately let the issue be decided at the ballot box, he said, where it found a great deal of support and ended up passing.
He noted that if financial issues were a concern, the American Dental Association has grant money available to refit water plants for fluoride treatment, something dental hygienist Lisa Wiltse had said she would apply on behalf of Au Gres with council’s approval.
“When you can get money from the state to deal with it, it seems shortsighted to leave that money on the table,” Dwan said.
Dwan addressed Mayor LaVern Dittenber’s concerns from a previous meeting about other parts of the world deciding against adding fluoride to public water systems, noting that in Europe, fluoride is added to salt, while elsewhere it is naturally occurring in the water. He added the decay-reduction effects of fluoride impact not just kids but adults as well.
“It’s why people use fluoride toothpaste,” he said. “It’s not just for kids. Adults get cavities too.”
Joe Emerick, an Au Gres water customer in Turner, spoke against fluoridating the water, however, some people feel side effects from the substance. He said he is sensitive to fluoride, and it can make him dizzy or, in large enough doses, cause his throat to close up.
He also was concerned that it could have an impact on the brain, concerns echoed by others at the meeting.
“We had a blitz campaign in the 1970s by the federal government, similar to when we saw swine flu a couple years ago, about how great fluoride was,” Emerick said. “But I can’t see dumping something in the water that could possible cause dementia.”
Another man cited his daughter, a medical professional, and a Harvard study suggesting fluoride could cause a reduction in IQ. The Harvard report uses incomplete data from China that suggests that heavy amounts of fluoride may have a negative, half-point impact on IQ, but researchers acknowledged the data comes from disparate methodologies, and a more in-depth study would be required. Additionally, the amount of naturally occurring fluoride in these water supplies was between 2-10 milligrams per liter, far in excess of the U.S. regulated limit of 0.7 milligrams.
Wiltse dismissed a link to dementia, noting that it could be caused by a lot of things. Dwan added there has been no statistical difference in the number of dementia cases between areas that fluoridate their water supplies and places that do not, so studies suggest that it is not a factor.
Wiltse added that chlorine, added to municipal water supplies by law, it also toxic in larger amounts, but the regulated amounts are safe for human consumption, much like fluoride.
Dwan also addressed concerns about the toxicity of fluoride in toothpaste, and said the size of toothpaste tubes is federally regulated so that even if someone were to ingest the entire tube, it would not be a deadly amount of fluoride.
Beyond the health debate, Councilman Keith Edmonds, who was serving as mayor pro-tem due to the absence of Dittenber, said the city engineer estimates adding additional plumbing to the city’s water plant to accommodate fluoridation would cost approximately $40,000. The ADA grants only cover work up to $20,000.
Water Plant Superintendent Randy Dittenbir said he had concerns about the space in the plant for adding fluoride. While it is not a problem at Standish’s water plant, he said Au Gres’ plant is smaller and older, with a lower ceiling, poorer ventilation, and electronics packed together within feet of each other. While acknowledging he is not an engineer, he said adding fluoride could require adding a small room onto the plant, and he is not sure where there is space on the property to do it.
“You can’t compare apples to apples between the two water plants,” Dittenbir said. “Standish has a newer, larger plant.”
Wastewater Plant Superintendent Heath Christie added there would be additional Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulations when adding fluoride to make sure they only put in safe amounts.
Closing out the public comments, Edmonds thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and showing their interest in the city’s affairs.
“It’s nice to see people come in and that people care,” Edmonds said. “It makes me want to research more information when I see people in here.”
Councilman Cliff Warr thanked Wiltse for her hard work on this topic, and said the city council is largely made up of relatively new faces who are still working on the city’s learning curve and getting more involved. He added that without feedback from the community, the council simply does not know where their constituents stand.