City of Boulder voters will have a chance to decide on a new drinking water additive ordinance in November, and it might force locals to do a little research.
The Clean Drinking Water (CDW) initiative, proposed by a group of citizens known as Clean Water Advocates (CWA) of Boulder, would in short prevent “medications” from being added by the city to the public drinking water supply unless the substance is approved by the FDA and does not contain “contaminants” in concentrations above EPA Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLG).
But an entire paragraph in the CWA petition refers to an additive, hydrofluorosilicic acid (HFS), that the city uses to fluoridate its drinking water. The petition itself did not specifically name HFS, but a CWA press release, sent out after City Clerk Alisa Lewis announced that organizers had collected enough valid petition signatures, did.
The release said HFS is a “by-product of the phosphate fertilizer industry” that contains contaminants such as lead and arsenic. A 1990 data sheet from Lucier Chemical Industries (LCI) of Jacksonville, Fla., said its HFS typically contains 0.0002 percent lead by weight, with a maximum of 0.020 percent lead, and a typical concentration of 0.0035 percent arsenic.
The product typically contains roughly 18.5 percent fluorine by weight, and the city adds HFS to drinking water to attain fluoridation of not more than one part per million. A citizen vote in 1969 established the current fluoridation standards in Boulder.
CWA collected almost 4,100 valid petition signatures for the initiative, and CWA spokeswoman Lynn Hill said she and other supporters encountered a great deal of support while out petitioning.
“It wasn’t that hard to get people to sign once you explained what it was,” said Hill Tuesday. “I think when you explain that there are toxins in the water, they’re not too happy about it.”
But winning a general election can be more difficult than collecting signatures. A 2005 ballot measure in Ft. Collins failed by about a two-to-one margin, and John J. Hanck, DDS and former president of the Colorado Dental Association (CDA), said he worked against the Ft. Collins initiative.
“It generally costs less than a dollar per person per year to fluoridate the water, and studies have shown that you get a tremendous reduction in tooth decay over the general population,” said Hanck on Wednesday.
He said those who are well off financially might not suffer if fluoride is not added, since they can afford topical applications and generally use fluoridated toothpaste, but “a large percentage of the population” aren’t getting the topical applications.
“The fact that it’s in the water goes across all economic levels and all educational levels, and you’re getting the benefit of fluoridation,” said Hanck.
Reports with conclusions both for and against the use of fluoride in drinking water are too numerous to mention, but the Centers for Disease Control has the 2001 “Recommendations for Using Fluoride to Prevent and Control Dental Caries in the United States” on its Web site, www.cdc.gov, and the report supports fluoridating drinking water to levels from 0.7 to 1.2 PPM.
On the other hand, a report called “Tooth Decay Trends in Fluoridated vs. Unfluoridated Countries” posted on the Fluoride Action Network site at www.fluoridealert.org/WHO-dmft.htm suggested that tooth decay has also declined significantly over the past 30-40 years in many European nations that don’t fluoridate drinking water.
Hill and CWA supporters have said the CWA measure targets the contaminants in HFS, but Ned Williams, City of Boulder director of public works for utilities, said passage of the initiative would probably in fact prevent the city from fluoridating.
“We’re not aware of any supplier that could supply fluoridation products with the qualities that they (CWA) laid out for drinking water purposes,” said Williams on Tuesday.
Hanck said it is possible to add “straight sodium fluoride” to water, but said that generally only towns much smaller than Ft. Collins or Boulder that have settling ponds for water treatment do so.
“It takes bags of this stuff to be added and stirred in,” said Hanck. “It has to be calculated carefully, and then it gets dispersed into the drinking water system. The HFS disassociates much more easily, so you can have a little machine that drips it into the water supply at proper amounts.”
Williams also said the city is currently having tests done on its HFS to determine contaminant levels, and expects the tests to show the presence of some substances at above MCLG standards.
But information about drinking water standards from the EPA at www.epa.gov said Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) are “enforceable standards” for contaminants while MCLGs are “non-enforceable goals.” The EPA said it attempts to set MCLs as close to MCLGs as possible.
“In some cases, maybe the goals can never be achieved, but they’re something to strive for and work towards,” said Williams, who also said city water will contain some natural fluoridation levels without additives.
Boulder citizens should expect a 2006 campaign with a great deal of information presented and controversy, as has occurred in many cities debating fluoridation nationwide, but for Hill, the CWA initiative has at least one simple component.
“I think it’s reasonable that we should have clean drinking water, period,” said Hill.