Water officials on Thursday continued to navigate the tricky topic of fluoridating water at the regional level, and acknowledged that new information could potentially forestall any project despite the desires of its customers.
The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District board has tread carefully on the issues surrounding fluoride, but indicated that it wants to wait until the cities it serves make a decision on whether they want regional treatment. The district expects to get a cost analysis study on fluoride administration in December, and will send that along to the cities, which will each need to make a decision on whether to pursue it.
But it could get complicated with efforts under way by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The agency is currently conducting a review of the health risks of fluoride in water, a process applied to any chemicals in water every five years. That could lead to a change of the state’s public health goal for fluoride, and if it does, a review of the regulation limiting the concentration — currently at 2 milligrams per liter — of fluoride allowed in public drinking water.
If that limit were to be reduced significantly, it could make it worthless to fluoridate water. That is, the amount allowed in water could fall below the effective dosage recommended by the American Dental Association for treating tooth decay.
District General Manager Carol Rische said her communication with the health office found it “entirely premature” to suggest that the health goal would be changed. That runs counter to McKinleyville resident Mike Rademaker, who said his conversation with the office indicated that the health goal was likely to be lowered.
”I’m just trying to say that this is a major investment of money,” Rademaker said. “Let’s just all make sure we know what’s going on in the regulatory environment.”
He pointed to the 2006 National Academy of Science’s review of the federal maximum level for fluoride of 4 mg/l that found that did not protect people from adverse health effects. Another study by members of the academy’s National Research Council found that level should be cut to a factor of 10, or to .4 mg/l. That has yet to be done. States cannot set their limit higher than the federal government.
The discussion comes as a study by Kennedy/Jenks Consultants is under way to determine the cost of treating water regionally. There was some initial disagreement among board members as to whether the district should receive that study, then hold a public hearing and decide before the municipalities. It settled on a majority opinion to provide the study to its customers, let them hold hearings and make a decision before the district votes.
”Is the benefit worth the risk?” said board President J. Bruce Rupp. “Those questions are things we’ll have to look at down the road.”
The situation underlines the difficulty behind the district’s split responsibilities to its customers — cities with their own public processes — and its responsibility to its constituents as a public board itself.
Board member Randy Turner questioned the idea of pursuing a project — if one is actually authorized — before the state finishes its review.
”Does it make sense to wait until we know more?” Turner said.
There seemed to be agreement that there is no rush, and board member Barbara Hecathorn said that it took the Los Angeles region — which recently decided to provide fluoride in its water — 10 years to come to the decision.