The only comments at Tuesday’s public hearing on water fluoridation in Hartland Township were in favor of continuing to fluoridate the water supply, but some board members believe the overall silence of most water customers is more telling.
Of the 800 or so families connected to the township’s water supply, fewer than five residents voiced their support of fluoridation, joined by a handful of dentists and medical experts.
Water customers were given two notices on the public hearing prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
“We pretty much put 800 people on notice that we’re discussing whether to stop fluoridating and only had one couple speak in favor of it,” said Trustee Glenn Harper, who believes fluoride use should be “up to an individual, not to the government.”
He said evidence shows elevated levels of fluoride could cause weak bones and other health problems.
“It looks like the vast majority of people are not advocates for us keeping (fluoridation),” Harper said.
Clerk Larry Hopkins and Supervisor Bill Fountain were also surprised by Tuesday’s low turnout, with Hopkins suggesting most people don’t “find it to be an issue to them.”
Medical experts disagree, including Dr. Don Lawrenchuk, medical director for the Livingston County Department of Public Health, who was at the meeting.
Lawrenchuk said he viewed Tuesday’s meeting as positive, noting that all who spoke — including a pregnant mother — advocated continued fluoridation.
He said it was concerning to him that Hartland Township might stop fluoridation, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
“Even though there would be a relatively small number of people affected, the concern would be that if they are successful in Hartland getting rid of fluoridation, I can easily see this spreading to other communities as well,” Lawrenchuk said. “It would be a major step in the wrong direction.”
The board is expected to vote on whether to continue, disband or modify its current fluoride policy at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Township Manager James Wickman said Hartland Township’s water-fluoridation program keeps fluoride levels to between 0.3 parts per million and 2 parts per million, half of the maximum allowed under federal guidelines.
It is unclear how much the township spends annually on fluoridation, although statistics provided to board members by Department of Public Works director Shannon Filarecki suggest it costs thousands of dollars per year in part because water levels must be checked daily.
New federal guidelines suggest an optimal fluoride level of 0.7 ppm; Hartland Township has naturally occurring fluoride levels of 0.3 ppm to 0.4 ppm in its groundwater.
Fountain said he’s waiting to see what kind of savings might be achieved if fluoridation were to be done away with, knowing the township does have naturally occurring fluoride already.
“Is that 3 ppm difference worth the time and calibration and everything else that goes into it?” Fountain asked. “That’s the question we have to figure out.
In Michigan, at least two other municipalities have attempted to do away with fluoridation.
In May, Mount Clemens removed fluoride from its municipal water supply.
In contrast, the St. Ignace City Council agreed in 2005 to add fluoride back into its water system. It had removed fluoride one year before to save money.