Fluoride in the drinking water — friend or foe? The subject is bound to touch a nerve.
It was a hot-button issue after city officials released the projected 2012 budget in June. Officials proposed eliminating the city’s more-than-20-year fluoridation program as a cost-cutting measure.
Doing so would save an estimated $13,000 from the budget and prevent the city from having to replace a $40,000 storage tank.
“Sometime in the next budget cycle — and probably we can put it off until the end — we are going to have to replace our tank,” Paul Stanek, assistant utility director at the city’s water plant, said by phone. “The money we are going to propose to spend wouldn’t have to be done until the end of the next fiscal year,” which is Oct. 1, 2012.
Dunedin eco-activist Bree Cheatham, an outspoken opponent of
fluoridated drinking water, quickly became involved when she learned it was a proposed cut. The issue was brought up during a budget workshop July 13 but was tabled for further discussion in September after she raised her objections.
She had hoped the proposal would be a sure thing and even began a petition in favor of the cut.
“If I want fluoride, I’ll get fluoride at my dentist’s office,” Cheatham said recently.
Stanek cautioned people to be informed before making brash judgments.
“Part of what people read … is about all the hazardous effects of high levels of fluoride,” Stanek said in a phone interview. “You have to really go through that information to see what vein they are talking
about. Levels of fluoride above the [Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminate level] can be dangerous … but a lot of anything can be bad for you. A little of some things can be good for you.”
Grand Rapids, MI, became the first city in the world to introduce fluoride to its drinking water, in 1945. The addition came after extensive and heralded research from the early 1900s that supported the value of safe levels of fluoride to preventing widespread tooth decay and discoloration, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The Centers for Disease Control recommends water fluoridation “be continued in communities currently fluoridating and extended to those without fluoridation,” based on more than 50 years of water fluoridation studies from the National Research Council, an independent group of scientists that advises the federal government and public.
Dunedin followed Belleair as the second city in Pinellas County to take the step in 1992. Today, four other Tampa Bay area cities — St. Petersburg, Gulfport, South Pasadena and parts of Oldsmar — fluoridate their water supply.
The National Research Council found that safe levels of fluoride helped reduce tooth decay and prevent cavities in children in all its studies from 1951 to 1993. Excessive levels of fluoride, however, increased the possibility of bone deficiencies, the research suggested.
Some advocacy groups began calling it a cancer-causing toxin. Environmental concerns also began to arise. Advocacy groups like the Sierra Club warned of its potential to adversely affect downstream ecosystems.
The debate is back with a vengeance.
“Why is the EPA in charge of fluoride? Why would the Environmental Protection Agency be the ones regulating and researching what’s good for us as human beings? Why not the FDA?” Cheatham asked.
Both sides should be well represented at the upcoming workshop, set for 9 a.m. Sept. 15 at City Hall.
Cheatham plans on bringing as many anti-fluoride crusaders as she can round up. More than 100 people have signed her petition at Change.org.
“I look at this as the perfect opportunity” to address the issue, she said.
Stanek says he is “putting together a packet of information for the commissioners to go through.”
Proponents and challengers of the issue are encouraged to come
and voice their opinions on the subject, and the city will then have to choose which side of the issue to fall on.
“That’s why it’s at a workshop, a public meeting,” Stanek said. “You usually don’t have an hour or two to spend at a commission meeting to discuss one item like this.”