Members of the City Council are leaning toward keeping fluoride in Fort Collins water but indicated at a meeting Tuesday night that the amount of the cavity-fighting substance might need to be adjusted to a less-intense level.
The seven-member council met in a study session to hear the recommendations of three boards and the council-appointed Fluoride Technical Study Group. Opponents of public water fluoridation and supporters attended the session, taking notes in anticipation of a public comment session that has not yet been scheduled.
Two boards, the Larimer County Board of Health and the Health District of Northern Larimer County’s board of directors, told the council they support the continued use of fluoride. Both boards have stated that Fort Collins’ fluoride is a cost-effective and proven cavity fighter but note it can create a nonharmful, mild form of dental fluorosis, a cosmetic condition where small white flecks appear on teeth.
John Morris, vice chairman of the city’s Water Board, argued against fluoridation. He told council members that Fort Collins’ water supply was being used as a “medicinal distribution system” facing an ethical challenge if even one person is discovered to be harmed by long-term exposure to the city’s water.
Three members of the council agreed with Morris and urged other council members to support requiring Fort Collins Utilities to remove the liquid form of fluoride, hydrofluorosilicic acid, or HFS, from water.
“I really think what we need to do is remove trace elements — trace substances — from our drinking supply, not add them,” Councilman David Roy said.
Councilwoman Marty Tharp and Councilman Eric Hamrick agreed.
Hamrick worried that the Board of Health did not appreciate the gravity of its own advice that children less than 6 months old be prevented from consuming the city’s fluoridated water.
“We know that babies shouldn’t drink it,” he said to Frank Vertucci, the Board of Health’s representative. “That’s why you advised us not to add it to their formula.”
He added that the storage tanks for HFS would be costly to replace — about $500,000.
But four members of the council said they were convinced of fluoride’s benefits.
Councilman Bill Bertschy noted that potentially toxic iodine typically is added to table salt and that vitamin D often is added to cow’s milk. He said he had no reason to question the health recommendations of boards that also have noted the ill effects of cigarette smoke in public places and supported equipment to reduce radon gas in Fort Collins homes.
Others, like Councilman Kurt Kastein and Mayor Ray Martinez, were more swayed by the fact that fluoride benefits those who cannot otherwise afford quality dental care.
“We raise fees on people. We raise taxes. We are chopping up their health coverage, and now we want to take away the simplest form of health care from the water?” Martinez asked rhetorically.
He said some of the theories aimed at exposing the flaws of fluoridation at times have tested his sense of humor.
“People approach me and tell me fluoride is a communist plot,” he said. “We’ve been putting fluoride in the water since 1967, and if it is a communist plot, it has failed miserably.”
Karen Weitkunat was among the council members who support the continued fluoridation of city water.
The council, which did not vote, asked Utilities General Manager Mike Smith to lead an inquiry into the safest level of fluoride for city water with an indication that at lower levels it would be effective and safer.
The current level of fluoride in Fort Collins water is 1 milligram per liter of water.
The Board of Health had recommended that the city consider reducing fluoride levels in the summer, when people drink more water.
Dr. Bruce Cooper spoke for the nine members of the Fluoride Technical Study Group, reading word-by-word to council the conclusions of a lengthy “consensus” report on the safety of fluoride.
The report found that fluoridated water leads to a reduction in cavities and does not pose a significant health risk for cancer, bone fractures, thyroid conditions or skeletal fluorosis.