Tooth decay in the United States has declined dramatically since fluoridation of public water supplies began in the 1940s.
But don’t bother officials in Amherst County with that fact. And don’t bother them with other information showing fluoridation is the single-most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. The federal Centers for Disease Control has proclaimed community water fluoridation “as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
The Amherst County Service Authority, nonetheless, has given its blessing to stopping fluoridation of the water supplied to its Madison Heights customers. It may or may not resume it.
That was the news out of a Board of Supervisors meeting last month at which the public was not given a chance to comment one way or the other on the question of whether to resume fluoridating the water. The reason the public didn’t get a chance to comment is simply that the water customers didn’t know about the meeting.
Transparency in government in Amherst has had its ups and downs in recent years. The decision not to resume fluoridating the water has to be one of the downs.
Fluoridation, or the practice of adding small amounts of fluoride to the water supply as a method of reducing tooth decay, was discontinued at the water filtration plant in Madison Heights in March 2011. Public Utilities Director Dan French sought guidance from the public service authority board, which is composed of members of the Board of Supervisors, after receiving a letter from the state Department of Health back in October that encouraged the county to resume fluoridation.
French said the service authority stopped fluoridation during an upgrade of the water filtration plant. He said it was anticipated the fluoride treatments would be interrupted for four to six weeks, but the practice never resumed because of conflicting opinions over the standard level of fluoride concentration.
The range for fluoridation in Virginia, he said, has been 0.8 to 1.4 parts per million, with the target concentration being 0.9 ppm. About the time the filtration plant was ready to resume fluoridation, the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency suggested that the standard nationwide should be 0.7 ppm. Other agencies have suggested other levels, adding to the confusion that led to discontinuance of fluoridation at the Madison Heights plant.
Following that discussion, the board voted 3-2 to wait for more concrete guidance on the level of fluoride to be used. The board also instructed French to notify the water customers that fluoridation had been stopped for nearly three years.
That hardly fits in the realm of keeping the customers informed in a timely fashion about something as important as fluoride in their water. Fluoridation has been well documented in the fight against tooth decay all across America. There’s no reason to stop that fight for water customers in Madison Heights.