The Juneau Assembly likely will get a split recommendation regarding the continued use of fluoride in city water, said Juneau Fluoride Study Commission Chairman Bart Rozelle.
“We are not of one mind whether we are in favor of continuing fluoridation or not,” Rozelle said of the commission. “We are meeting the 24th of May to put together one, or several, draft recommendations.”
The recommendations should be completed by the end of May, Rozelle said.
“We all hope to get the recommendation in soon,” commission member Ron Hansen said. “It is my personal opinion that we should continue with fluoridation, but we still are not all together on this.”
Mayor Bruce Botelho appointed the commission, charged with making recommendations to the mayor, city manager and Juneau Assembly regarding the use of dental fluoride in drinking water. The six commission members have been divided, with the majority saying fluoridation should continue, Hansen said.
There are other opinions. In a letter to the mayor and Assembly members, commission member Emily Kane requested that the city become a fluoride-free community because she believes potential risks outweigh the benefits.
“This health issue should not be political,” Assembly member Jonathan Anderson said. “This is still a contentious issue in debate, but we need to look into what the scientists and authorities on this say because we are not experts.”
The commission had waited for results from a report by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, which they hoped would be the final determinant.
The report found that people exposed to the maximum allowed level of fluoride in tap water – a level well beyond what Juneau water contains – may be at greater risk for tooth decay and bone fractures. It urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reassess the risk posed by fluoride contamination to establish new guidelines, but did not indicate a better limit.
The study still garnered debate among members. It indicated that children and infants are at a higher risk, because relative to their weight they are exposed to three to four times more fluoride. The academy expert panel said some 200,000 people in the United States may consume water that is at or above the government’s standard because of naturally occurring fluoride. Excess fluoride enters some water supplies from runoff and industrial discharges.
“The report really didn’t shed light on the issue, because the amounts of fluoride used in the studies were so high,” Anderson said. “The advantages and disadvantages of fluoridation need to be decided.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Alaska still support fluoridation, which is telling, Anderson said.
Fluoridation for cavity prevention has polarized Juneau since the city stopped it without notice in June 2003 to study the copper level in drinking water. Since then city officials have worked with state and federal agencies in establishing new copper levels at the Mendenhall water treatment plant. The city resumed fluoridation in March 2004.
“This is an emotional issue and we are waiting for the recommendation before taking any position,” Juneau Assembly member Merrill Sanford said. “I can imagine there will be minority reports.”