WAILUKU – State health officials are moving to make Lanai the first civilian population in recent Hawaii history to have fluoride in drinking water. They hope to have the system set up by next spring.
Dr. Mark Greer, chief of the state Dental Health Division, said money for the project is coming from the state tobacco settlement fund and that equipment and chemicals for fluoridation will be provided to the privately owned Lanai Water Co.
Some Maui County residents, upset about the plan, are criticizing the use of state funds for fluoridation.
“We’re concerned about the health of people over here on Lanai,” said Jade Bruhjell, a Molokai resident who flew over for an anti-fluoridation meeting on Lanai last night. “We plan to file a case against the Department of Health in the very near future.”
The last use of fluoridation in civilian drinking water occurred between 1961 and 1972 at the pineapple-company town of Maunaloa, Molokai.
State researchers say Maunaloa residents had a decrease in tooth decay of 62 percent during fluoridation and that tooth decay increased by 95 percent after fluoridation ended in 1972.
The plan for fluoridation on Lanai follows a Molokai group’s failure earlier this year at obtaining approval from the county or state to fluoridate public drinking water on the Friendly Isle.
Lanai has apparently become the next stage for a conflict, with supporters and critics from other islands forming alliances with Lanai residents on both sides of the issue.
State health statistics for the 1999 school year show Lanai has the highest rate of tooth decay in children ages 5 to 9 among Hawaiian Islands and more than three times the rate of children on Hawaii military bases where there has been fluoridation since the 1950s.
Lanai Water President Vince Bagoyo said the company supports the project based on a community meeting in March, where citizens and health professionals listed fluoridation as the priority. He said under the plan, the state will assume the cost of the $100,000 installation and the chemicals.
Bruhjell, a Molokai ukulele maker, said those at the meeting did not represent the wishes of the community.
He said he has collected mounds of documents in the last 30 years about the dangers of fluoridation and knows people within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who also oppose it.
Bruhjell said fluoridation has been associated with a number of illnesses, including cancer and osteoporosis.
Ron McOmber, a Lanai resident who works for the state, said he doesn’t trust the Lanai Water Co. to operate a fluoridation system and wants assurances from the state that it’s “foolproof.”
Greer said according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, there has been no credible evidence supporting an association between fluoridation and any of the illnesses alleged by critics, including heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and acquired immune deficiency.
Lanai dentist James Sagawa said the situation is so bad he sees tooth decay in children ages 2 to 4 and a number require caps on their teeth.
Sagawa said he’s learned that the community can’t rely upon the children’s parents for dental hygiene. “A lot of them don’t know any better,” he said.
John Ornellas, who supports fluoridation, said about 40 to 50 people were at the April meeting, an attendance that is well above normal for a meeting on Lanai.
He said the community can’t wait for everyone to support fluoridation. “Otherwise, we’d never get anything done,” he said.