EGG HARBOR CITY — Fluoride supporters dominated a special meeting Wednesday night to discuss whether to continue the practice here.
About 40 residents came out. City Council may make a decision at Thursday night’s regular meeting, said Council President Ed Dennis. He and several other council people seemed reluctant to discontinue fluoridation.
But Councilman Robert Ross led the argument to end fluoridation, and two residents spoke in favor of ending it.
“Is being a lower IQ, high ADHD child worth it, to have a great smile?” asked Ross, after outlining research he said he found online indicating there are problems with intelligence quotient, and attention-deficit hyperactivity linked to ingesting fluoride.
But a much larger portion of the audience was in favor of keeping it.
Resident Dick Colby, a retired Stockton professor who lives in Egg Harbor City, said he is familiar with research showing a 30 percent decrease in cavities in communities with fluoridated water, compared to non-fluoridated communities.
“For $2,800 a year, serving 5,500 customers that’s 50 cents a year, and over a lifetime of 80 years, $40,” he said. “Compare that to the cost of one cavity, one root canal or one extraction.”
Periodontist Richard Levitt of Northfield said water fluoridation has been well studied and shown to be safe in the appropriate amounts.
“It is the 8th most abundant element in the crust of earth. It’s in seawater at 1.2-1.4 parts per million,” he said. “How we found out it’s effective is seeing communities that naturally have high fluoride in water. … A dentist moved from St. Louis where everybody was losing their teeth to Oklahoma, where nobody had decay because of high levels in the water.”
He said for every dollar invested in water fluoridation, $38 is saved in dental care, a big help during tough times in Atlantic County.
The $2,800 cost of fluoridating the city’s water supply for a year is a great bargain, he and other medical and health professionals said. County Health Officer Pat Diamond and Hammonton dentist James Moriarty also spoke of the health and economic benefits of continuing fluoridation.
Fluoride is currently added in tiny amounts of .7 parts per million to 1.2 parts per million, Water Department Superintendent Jerry Gleason said.
Gleason has run the city’s water and sewer department more than 23 years, and has said he is the person who suggested the meeting. He said he is not against it for medical reasons, just for practical ones like preventing waste, since 99 percent of water is not drunk but flushed down drains and used on lawns or to clean clothes.
Fluoride is added to water to strengthen teeth as they develop in young children, and to help prevent cavities for people of all ages.
Some opponents of water fluoridation say they have seen proof it harms human health, but the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and scores of other medical and dental organizations support the practice.
Some studies have found lowered IQs in children in villages in China and India who have been exposed to high levels of naturally occurring fluoride. But those levels start at more than 10 times the levels in fluoridated water, and there are also other explanations for the neurological defects, said John Bucher, Associate Director of the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health, in a phone interview.
In China, for example, there is also a high level of fluoride in coal that is burned for heat in homes, he said.
Health organizations say fluoride has no medical downside in the proper amounts.
Bucher, who said he gave fluoride supplements in vitamins to his children when they were young because he didn’t live in an area with fluoridated water, said fluoride is known to have a sharp dose response. That means the amount that can be toxic is not very far apart from safe levels, so it is important to carefully control the amount going into the water.
He said the NIH has a draft document, recommending reducing to no more than .7 parts per million the amount used for water fluoridation, because fluoride is in so many dental products today. He said it isn’t because of concerns about health problems, but because of cosmetic problems. Dentists have been reporting more fluorosis of teeth — a cosmetic discoloring caused by slightly elevated fluoride levels.
Egg Harbor City and the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority are the only water providers in our region who fluoridate water.