The public works department in St. Croix Falls pulled the plug on the city’s fluoridation pumps on the morning of February 12 — a controversial decision made by the City Council Feb. 11.
Alderman Randy Korb and Alderperson Loreen Morrell voted to end fluoridation, while Council President Lori Erickson voted to continue it. Alderman Don Anderson was absent.
“On the information that I’ve studied, and the understanding that there’s already (naturally occurring) fluoride in the water, what I believe the public is saying is we really want the option of whether or not we want to use fluoride on our children’s or our teeth,” Morrell said. “So from that perspective, I’d like to make a motion that we take the fluoride out of the water in the city, ASAP.”
The state of Wisconsin recently adopted a US Health and Human Services (HHS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendation that fluoridation levels be lowered to 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water, from the previous recommendation of 0.7 to 1.2. St. Croix Falls had been administering fluoride at a 1.11 milligram per liter ratio.
Erickson recommended that the city continue fluoridating at the diminished level.
“I think it would be wise to not get rid of everything, but just to bring it down to the regulated set amount,” she said. “Don’t throw out the whole system. I think there are some benefits to having this smaller amount, versus none.”
In 2006 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Dental Association (ADA) issued a recommendation that fluoridated water not be used in formula for infants under the age of 12 months. In 2009, the City Council approved a motion to notify citizens, through their water bills, not to use tap water when mixing baby formula. Only one notification has gone out in the past four years.
“I don’t think as a Council that we’ve done our job in notifying our residents,” Korb said. “I think there are too many studies that point to possibly deleterious effects, really malicious side effects.”
Mayor Brian Blesi said that scientific and public health debate aside, the method of fluoride delivery is simply not efficient.
Public Works Supervisor Mike Bryant described the administering of fluoride into the city’s water supply as a one to ten mix of concentrated fluoride, metered into the system through five pumps. The pumps are checked every day to make sure a calculated dosage is being applied.
“We’ve been hitting all the numbers that the Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has put at us for the last 25 years,” Bryant said.
Bryant estimated that it would take up to two months for all the fluoride to leave the system and for levels to reach the naturally occurring fluoride level of .04 milliliters of fluoride per liter of water.
Another point considered by the Council was the cost to fluoridate. According to “quick math” by Peck and Bryant, the cost of chemicals, testing, and pumps comes to around $2,800 annually.
According to Peck, the city has 668 gallons of concentrated fluoride still on hand, and the question of what to do with it remains.
Though fluoridation has now been discontinued in St. Croix Falls, it is on the books as a class two ordinance, requiring another vote on an ordinance change. That vote will come at the February 25 City Council meeting.
Some residents support end to fluoridation
Nearly 20 city residents attended the City Council meeting to voice objections to the city’s fluoridation program. St. Croix Falls dentist, Dr. Steven McCormack, provided the lone voice in favor of fluoridation, while seven citizens provided public comment against.
Citing his personal studies of fluoridation, including statements by the EPA, resident Casey Borchert made the case against the practice.
“In light of this and continuing emerging studies, its unsafe to risk the health of our children and communities any longer, which is why I request that St. Croix Falls join the growing number of cities in our country and 90 percent of Europe that have chosen to stop putting chemicals in their water supply,” Borchert said.
Several citizens expressed dismay over the fact that they are forced to haul un-fluoridated water to their homes and businesses.
“Hauling water and buying water for me is challenging, it’s much easier for someone to go and buy fluoridated toothpaste,” resident Ann Turner said.
Former City Council member Debra Kravig told the council that while she took a “middle ground” approach to the issue when it came up four years ago, the time is right to take fluoride out of the water.
“Times have changed,” she said. “I agree with Dr. McCormack that the introduction of fluoride prevented a lot of tooth decay, but because of the ubuiquitousness of fluoride, we are ingesting so much more than we have in the past.”
Dentists resilient in support of fluoride
Citing the fact that the CDC recognizes water fluoridation as one of the ten “great public health achievements” of the 20th century, Dr. Steven McCormack made his pitch to the Council.
“You have to go against the reputation of these [ADA, AMA, Surgeon General, CDC, etc.], people standing behind fluoride,” he said. “You’re telling me they’re just going to rubber stamp this, they’re not. They’re standing behind something that’s been done for 60 years.”
McCormack took issue with the information many of the citizens had presented.
“They’re speaking of things that just aren’t true. You say fluorosis in the elderly is a risk. Fluorosis doesn’t happen in adults, it just doesn’t,” he said. “I don’t see fluorosis in 40 percent of children out here, and I’ve got first-hand knowledge.”
McCormack explained that when he came to St. Croix Falls from the Twin Cities in 1990, that the fluoridation had been lax in the city. He was doing more pulpotomies, or children root canals, than ever before in his career. He attributed it to under-fluoridation among children in the city.
“Two years later we finally got it back in the water supply. I don’t do ten percent of the pulpotomies I was doing at the time,” he said.
McCormack said that people should take up other public health issues, rather than declare war on fluoride.
“Family dynamics in Polk County are terrible, sexual abuse in the northern part of Polk County is terrible, pick that as a public health doctrine to go after, and don’t go after fluoride. This is just silly,” he said. “It’s economical, it’s beneficial, it’s been proven again and again. You’re harming children by getting rid of fluoride.”
McCormack said that he is resolute in his recommendation of fluoride to patients.
“I tell them it works, it’s effective, it reduces dental decay 20-60 percent above and beyond topical toothpaste,” he said. “It’s a fantastic preventative and it’s cost effective.”
Area municipalities weigh in
St. Croix Falls isn’t the first local government to revisit the issue of water fluoridation.
In December of 2011, the Village of Grantsburg narrowly approved discontinuing fluoridation by a 4-3 vote.
Village Trustee Glenn Rolloff said that he toured the waterworks facility and was shocked by the hazardous materials involved in the process. After researching the issue, he decided that fluoridation was a decision better left to the individual.
“It seemed to me that if the state government was willing to give us the power to decide, that we should pass that decision on to the people,” Rolloff said.
Rolloff claimed that topical fluoride treatments offer a better anti-cavity result and that more access to dentists, fluoridated toothpaste, and other dental improvements have rendered fluoridation of public water impractical.
Rolloff’s solution to the potential citizen’s backlash was to take the $750 the village spends annually on fluoridation and use it to offer tubes of fluoridated toothpaste to residents unhappy with the decision.
To date, no Grantsburg citizens have requested a tube of toothpaste.
“Grantsburg has been fluoride-free for over a year with virtually no concerns at all. The community has endorsed the decision and the improved safety of our crew is a significant improvement,” Rolloff said.
The Village of Balsam Lake Board of Trustees voted unanimously to “eliminate the addition of fluoride treatment” in the public water system at the Feb. 4 meeting.
In Balsam Lake, the issue came down to dollars. The WDNR recommended that the village upgrade their fluoride distribution method by building a separate room addition to each well station for storage.
Rather than comply with the recommendations, the village decided to opt out. Fluoridation of public water in Balsam Lake will end March 1.
In November of 2009, the City of Amery discontinued their fluoridation of the water supply due to cost constraints. Amid pressure from the Polk County Board of Health and the Wisconsin Dental Association, they resumed fluoridation several months later.
In 2011 Amery received a “Community Water Fluoridation Reaffirmation Award” award at the National Oral Health Conference for resuming their fluoridation program. The conference was sponsored by the ADA, CDC, and the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors.