FAIRBANKS — Fluoride is now in the hands of the Fairbanks City Council.
A special task force recommended the city end a half-century-old mandate to fluoridate its water supply and will present findings to the City Council on Monday night. The council could abide by an ordinance or a ballot measure but is not required to take any action.
“My gut is telling me to go ahead and go with the recommendation,” Councilman Jim Matherly said. “I was surprised they said, ‘Take it completely out.’”
The panel, made up of four scientists, a pediatrician and a dentist, was formed a year ago to advise the city on the benefits and risks of adding fluoride to the public water supply. They studied the history, health effects and extent of fluoride use and gathered extensive public comment.
The panel decided it should be stopped altogether for two chief reasons — local water already contains natural fluoride levels and extra fluoride could harm to non-nursing infants.
Fluoride occurs naturally in our groundwater at 0.3 parts per million. For decades, the city required the utility to boost those levels to 1 ppm, but adjusted it to 0.7 ppm a couple of months ago when federal health recommendations changed.
Fluorosis, or splotchy teeth, is the only established health risk of fluoride at these levels, the report confirmed. While there are other alleged effects, like endocrine problems, neurosystem problems and osteosarcoma (bone cancer), the data is inconclusive, said Paul Reichardt, chairman of the committee and professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“They certainly warrant further study but there’s probably not a good enough case to base public policy on,” he said.
The report urged that dentists, physicians and schools inform families about fluoride levels and make sure supplemental fluoride is still available for youths.
“Not just educational programs, but this recommends that the school go back to what they did some years ago to provide some kind of fluoride,” Reichardt said.
Removing fluoride could cause more cavities for some youths, especially those who don’t go to the dentist, the panel stated.
“I think the kids that can’t afford fluoride treatment are going to lose out. I feel bad for those kids,” Matherly said.
But he said the recommendation was thoroughly researched and coincides with the will of the public.
Douglas Yates, with the group Fluoride Free Fairbanks, said he hopes the council passes an ordinance to remove fluoride.
“The City Council should consider the fact that they asked for this report and they should act on the recommendations,” he said.
Councilman Chad Roberts said a ballot measure could be more appropriate.
“I respect their opinion and the effort they put into it,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent sure which way I’m going.”