An attempt by three Holmen Village Board members to coax discussion of another fluoride referendum was unsuccessful, but they did get the board to change the kind of fluoride to be used in the village’s public water.
Board members Tony Horvath and Dawn Kulcinski requested the special board meeting Jan. 17 to discuss fluoridation issues.
The village board approved a switch to sodium fluoride, considered by some to be a safer kind of fluoride. The village was planning to use hydrofluorosilicic acid, which board member Michael Dunham said is a byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry.
Many fluoridation opponents call hydrofluorosilicic acid “industrial waste” or “toxic waste,” although reputable fact-check websites dispute those labels as “false.” Hydrofluorosilicic acid is derived from apatite, a type of limestone deposit used in the production of fertilizer, but it is created by a process separate from the making of fertilizer. It is not something left over from making fertilizer.
After the meeting, Dunham said he regarded the night’s work as a compromise. “And that’s exactly what you have to have to move forward. We have to respect the (referendum) vote and also respect those opposed to fluoride,” he said. “I am adamantly opposed (to fluoridation) but you have to separate yourself from what the public has directed you to do.”
Horvath was not as satisfied. “This has the potential to be a compromise,” he conceded, but said he considered it “pretty low that (the board) had to resort to technicalities to keep (the fluoride issue) from going before the public.”
Horvath had attempted to get the board to agree to put a referendum question on the April ballot. But Holmen Village Attorney Alan Peterson advised the board that its own regulations require any new motions to go through committee study, before coming to the board for action. A board vote to bypass that rule failed to pass.
The request for another public referendum will instead go to the public works committee for study at its next meeting.
Other problems may surface as Holmen Public Works Director Dean Olson figures out how, if possible, to adapt using powder-form sodium fluoride for the village’s system, rather than the liquid-based HFS acid for which the equipment was intended.
“I’m not sure our system could use sodium chloride in an efficient and cost-effective fashion,” Olson said.
Several days after the meeting, Olson said he is researching whether, after converting sodium fluoride powder into a liquid, it could provide a consistent feed into the water system. The required range is 0.6 to 0.8 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. Holmen’s fluoridation equipment also would need to be modified, he said.
Dunham said he expected the new type of fluoride to be more expensive. There was no information available on what the actual cost may be.
After the meeting, board member Ryan Olson agreed the cost of the new fluoride is unknown.
“That’s why I wanted to not have the special meeting, but rather let it go through the regular process and not vote on anything until after we’ve given it proper study,” Olson said.
Just a few people attended the recent special meeting and only one spoke. Cheryl Jacobsen told the board that fluoride proponents have been patient and have done everything the board asked of them.
“Now is the time for the board to uphold their side of the promise (to fluoridate),” she said.
Horvath encouraged board members to give voters another chance to give their opinion. “Some believe there has been a substantial change” in voters’ attitude on fluoride question, Horvath claimed. “It doesn’t do any harm to hear voters say again, ‘yes, we want to fluoridate,’” he said.
Village President Nancy Proctor told Horvath she did not understand why he was asking for the referendum. “When you called a special meeting two years ago, you wanted to wait until we got new limits,” Proctor said. “We did that.”
Horvath said he believes unless voters are given another chance to vote, the issue of fluoridation will continue to resurface. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to put this before the public,” he said.
Dunham and Ryan Olson asked village staff to put together a fluoride ordinance proposal that would recap all board actions taken, going back to the 2008 referendum, so that the village’s fluoridation process would be codified. Holmen Administrator Scott Heinig said drafting the ordinance and getting it before the board may be a three-month process.
Proctor said the village followed the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ recommendation in planning to use HFS acid to fluoridate.
But several other board members spoke of the toxicity of HFS. In 2011, studies prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to lower fluoride recommendations for drinking water because of possible detrimental effects on children’s health.
Then, EPA’s revised recommendation was based on a study that found 2 out of 5 children had fluorisis — streaking, spotting or pitting on teeth — as a result of excessive fluoride. Other studies found excessive fluoride ingestion could increase the risk of brittle bones, fractures and bone abnormalities.
Those health risks are what prompted the state to lower its recommendations this month, but Horvath and Kulcinski indicated they fear that level is still to high, citing increased fluoride in other food and drink sources that may push exposure to excessive levels.
After the meeting, Dunham labeled HFS as a hazardous waste. He pointed out that Holmen had to pay $15,000 to dispose of the unused HFS acid in a hazardous waste site, when the village’s fluoridation was stopped in 2011.
It should be noted that the store of HFS acid Holmen had to dispose of as toxic waste was a highly concentrated form. Concentrates of other substances, such as common vitamins, for example, also would qualify as toxic waste in their concentrated states.
Although using sodium fluoride is expected to be more expensive, Dunham said he believes the health benefits outweigh the cost.
Horvath also spoke of fluoride dangers, directing those interested to the national Center for Disease Control website. But Horvath said the website does not mention that much of the HFS used in American cities comes from overseas, in particular China, which might not have the same standards as the U.S.
“There’s a lot of information out there that is reliable that would change most minds if only they were willing to acknowledge it,” Horvath said.