More than 170 million Americans, or 67 percent of the United States population served by public water supplies, drink water with optimal fluoride levels for preventing tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Customers of the City of Lafayette’s water system, however, are no longer among them.
According to Mayor Bill Wells, he and water department supervisor Gene Reid made the decision to stop fluoridating the city’s water last fall. The last day the city added fluoride to its water, Reid noted, was Nov. 9, 2005.
“The decision was made within the department and it’s based on, I guess you’d say, to err on the side of safety,” Wells said.
“While there is information that is put out by the ADA (American Dental Association) and other people to explain the benefits of fluoridation, there’s other information out there that does almost exactly the opposite,” Wells added. “We’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Wells admitted that the decision to halt the fluoridation of the city’s water was one which very few people knew had been made.
Among those who were unaware of the decision were members of the Lafayette City Council.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said council member Carl Hudgens when contacted by telephone on Friday, May 19. “If it was ever brought up, ever talked about or anything at a council meeting, I don’t know about it. I’ve never heard anybody else tell it.”
“That’s a pretty important thing when you start messing with our drinking water,” Hudgens added. “I think people should have known what was going on – especially the council. I don’t know why they would have wanted to have kept it a secret or slipped around about it or whatever.”
“If that’s what they want to do, they’ve undoubtedly done that,” said council member Ruby Flowers. “It would be nice for anything that happens with the city for all the city council members to be informed.”
“When things are not let out to be known to everybody,” Flowers added, “it’s like you’re trying to keep a secret or something.”
“I’d want to talk to Gene and see if there’s some reason that they’ve stopped fluoridating,” said council member Loryn Atwell while admitting that he was unaware that the city had stopped fluoridating its water. “I don’t want to get into it too deep until I find out what’s going on.”
Count local dentist Lynn Cothron among those who were in the dark as well. “The American Dental Association has always recommended fluoridation in the water because, for a lot of these kids, that’s all they get,” Cothron said. “No, I was not aware of that. That’s awful.”
Asked why he had not informed the city council of the decision to discontinue fluoridation, Wells replied: “We felt like it was a departmental decision we could make. If the council chooses to change it, they can do that.”
Atwell, for one, says he trusts Reid to “do what’s right.”
“I don’t think that every little change they make they have to run to the council and tell us about, because I trust the people that we’ve got in charge that they’re going to do the right thing,” Atwell said. “If they don’t, we need to get rid of them.”
“Gene’s been there a long time and I trust Gene for whatever his decision is,” Atwell added. “I don’t think it was something that was an issue that they would have felt that they needed to bring before the council or anything, probably.”
“Gene Reid has been with the city for many, many years,” Flowers said. “He stays up to date on things that can be done and can’t be done, and I can’t imagine Gene or the mayor … doing anything they wouldn’t be allowed to do.”
“I can’t imagine them doing anything that would jeopardize anything with the people here in the City of Lafayette,” Flowers added. “I think that would be the most important thing that they would have in mind – the welfare of our
Wells and Reid said that they began discussing fluoridation last summer after learning that several water districts across the state had elected not to fluoridate in recent years.
(Red Boiling Springs, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, has never fluoridated its water system.)
South Blount County Utility District, the state’s largest unfluoridated system with approximately 30,000 customers, made the decision in 2004 after a survey of residents rejected fluoridation by a two-to-one margin.
“It was not done overnight,” Reid said. “We discussed it for, probably, a couple of months, and we decided that was the best thing for the City of Lafayette.”
Wells added that the decision to discontinue fluoridating the city’s water was not “cast in stone.”
“What we’d like to see is somebody take these facts that oppose (fluoridation) and say, ‘Here’s why this is not dangerous. Here’s our response to this. Here’s some scientific evidence that supports this,’” Wells said. “And we don’t have that.”
Fluoride’s benefits for teeth were discovered in the 1930s, when dental scientists observed remarkably low decay rates among people whose water supplies contained significant amounts of natural fluoride. Several studies conducted during the 1940s and 1950s confirmed that when a small amount of fluoride is added to the community water supply, tooth decay rates among residents of that community decease.
Water fluoridation prevents tooth decay primarily through direct contact with teeth and when consumed by children during the tooth forming years. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized the fluoridation of drinking water as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Reid said that the City of Lafayette had fluoridated its water system at the rate of 1.0 parts per million, well within the recommended range of .67 ppm and 1.2 ppm.
Wells said that the machine which fed the fluoride into the water was subject to failure, which created another concern.
“We don’t stand there and watch them when they do their thing,” Wells said.
“What if it malfunctions? What do you do?”
According to a material safety data sheet, fluoride dust can cause irritation to the eyes and the respiratory tract, and that swallowing the dust may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or burning, diarrhea, shortness of breath, difficulty in speaking, thirst, weakness of pulse, disturbed color vision, muscular weakness, convulsions, loss of consciousness and death.
“It’s dangerous for the guys at the plant to handle,” Reid said. However, that wasn’t a determining factor in the decision, Wells added.
“It’s wasn’t that we’re saying, ‘Well, employees do not want to handle this,’” Wells said. “The issue wasn’t what it costs – $50 a bag to buy this stuff. The issue is that scientific evidence is different. It depends on whose viewpoint you’re looking at.”
Wells said that an article entitled “Fluoridation: A 50 Year Old Blunder and Cover-Up” written by David C. Kennedy, DDS, and posted on the Internet, which outlines seven reasons [wh]y fluoridated water is a health hazard, claimed that fluoridation had several adverse health effects – including increased hip fractures – and was a “human carcinogen.”
“It depends on what scientific facts that you want to look at,” Wells said.
“And us not being scientists, and now knowing how to weigh one report higher or heavier than another one, we don’t know.”
Wells added that he was also concerned about any potential liability on the part of the city if it continued fluoridating its water supply.
“One of our concerns would be what if somebody comes along and says, ‘I’ve got cancer in my family and we think it’s directly related to your water supply,’ and then suddenly you’ve got a class action lawsuit, and we’re responsible,” Wells said. “Will somebody from the state, or somebody from the ADA, step up and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll take responsibility. We’ll take care of your lawsuits.’ They’re not going to say that, I don’t think.”
Dr. Kathy Phillips of the Upper Cumberland Regional Health Office met with Wells and Reid on Thursday, May 18, to address their concerns regarding fluoridation.
“Fluoridation is a voluntary program in Tennessee, so whoever is the controlling entity of the water treatment plant does have the final decision as to whether or not their water will be fluoridated,” Phillips said.
“Now, I’m a strong fluoride advocate,” Phillips added. “I’m a child of a dentist and I’ve worked in the federal government for 20 years with Native American children, those who had fluoride and those who didn’t, and it’s
Phillips was scheduled to give a presentation on community water fluoridation during the Macon County Health Council’s meeting on Tuesday, May 16, but postponed it until after she could meet with Wells and Reid.
“Tennessee ranks fifth in the country for water fluoridation, which is something that I’m extremely proud of because Tennessee doesn’t rank fifth in the country, positively, in a lot of health issues,” Phillips said. “I was kind of just shocked when all this happened, but we’re fixing it, and I’m not going to stop until I get it fixed.”
Phillips said that a recent push by organizations that oppose fluoridation of public water systems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has caused various water utilities to question whether or not they should fluoridate their
“We’ve got some towns in Tennessee that have been fluoridating for 50 years, so it’s been such a normal status quo thing that a lot of these people weren’t around when all that initial stuff was happening,” Phillips said.
“Unfortunately, there has been no effort to keep educating this new generation of people, so we’re going to have to do that.”
Phillips noted that the effort has already paid off, as Pickett County and Cannon County, both of which had discontinued fluoridating its water systems, have since been convinced to resume the practice.
Following her meeting with Wells and Reid, Phillips remained optimistic.
“They had some very good questions and we exchanged some educational material,” Phillips said. “They mayor said that he will review the material and when they have their next utility (committee) meeting, they will discuss
“It was a very positive meeting,” Phillips added. “Both (Wells and Reid) were very open-minded and respectful. I will check back with them by June 20 to see where they stand on this.”
The City of Lafayette’s Utility Committee is currently comprised of council members Carl Hudgens, Steve Turner and Jerry Wix, and is presided over by Wells. Because Hudgens and Turner were not re-elected earlier this month, Wells will be making new appointments to the committee.
According to City Register Annette Morgan, no meetings of the utility committee had been scheduled as of Monday, May 22.