Fort Collins’ fluoride technical study group issued its long-awaited report Wednesday, finding that fluoridating the city’s water supply provides cost-effective dental benefits and poses little public health risk.
“The report’s conclusion is this is still a proper health protocol to deliver fluoride in drinking water,” said Frank Vertucci, a study group member and vice president of the Larimer County Board of Health. “The benefits outweigh the costs, on the whole.”
The report comes after more than a year of study — “an exhaustive review,” Vertucci said — which was largely based on previously published research and included testimony from local residents. The process took a “weight of evidence” approach, gathering research and weighing it based on its credibility.
The group boiled its results into a set of four main findings. They are as follows:
* Water fluoridation at or near an optimal level leads to a reduction in dental caries, or cavities.
* Fluoridation does not represent a significant health risk for cancer, bone fractures, thyroid effects, skeletal fluorosis or immune system problems. Some of the research isn’t conclusive, however, and the report notes that the absence of evidence does not clear fluoridation of possible concerns.
* The public health goal of a reduction in cavities is best and most equitably achieved through a community water fluoridation program.
* The addition of hydrofluorosilicic acid, used by the city to fluoridate the water, does not lead to an increase in contaminants such as copper, manganese, zinc, cadmium, nickel or molybdenum.
“Some of the findings are more definitive than others,” said group member Bruce Cooper, medical director for the Health District of Northern Larimer County. “Science is all about minimizing uncertainty, but you can never minimize it altogether.”
The fluoride issue surfaced in spring 2001 when some local residents began to voice concern about the city’s fluoridation process. Fluoride is increasingly available to individuals through toothpaste and other means.
To continue its fluoridation program, the city would need to spend $500,000 on equipment upgrades, in addition to the $100,000 annually it costs to continue the program.
The nine-member study group was formed to review research to determine the costs and benefits of fluoridation, incorporate public comment and work to come to a consensus on what has become a contentious issue.
Calling the process “wonderfully interactive,” Vertucci said he’s hopeful the report will shed light on the complicated issue for city and health officials. As with any emotionally charged issue, however, he conceded it’s unlikely the report will convince all doubters.
“I hope the report educates those who want to be educated,” Vertucci said.
“There are some people you can’t reach.”
The results will be presented to the Fort Collins Water Board and Larimer County Board of Health, which will issue recommendations to City Council.
The council will decide whether the city will continue fluoridating its water, as it has done since 1967.
“I’m hoping (the report) dispels the rumors and myths on both sides,” Cooper said. “I also hope, in spite of its length, it’s carefully read by the boards that have to make a decision on this.”