The Madison Water Utility will continue adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water — for now.
The utility board voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone a review of the practice that was started in 1948 as a way to prevent tooth decay until the completion of a U.S. Health and Human Services review.
The board will wait until its own technical advisory committee makes a recommendation based on a final draft of the National Toxicology Program’s forthcoming report on the neurological effects of fluoride.
That report is expected to be released sometime next year. Meanwhile the utility will maintain the current level of 0.7 parts per million.
“We would be well served by waiting for such an august group … to weigh in,” said board member Lauren Cnar. “I would hate to make a premature decision and have our community suffer consequences from it.”
Tuesday’s vote came after a four-hour online meeting where scores of people from across North America weighed in on the pros and cons of fluoridation and the growing body of research. The board also received dozens of written comments from individuals and organizations in Madison and elsewhere.
Proponents, including multiple dentists and public health experts, argued it is a safe and effective tool for preventative health, particularly for populations without access to good dental care.
Dr. Russell D. Dunkel, the state dental director with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said it would be “unconscionable” to discontinue fluoridation during a pandemic that has increased inequities in access to medical care.
“I’ve seen the ravages of advanced dental decay,” Dunkel said. “This is a completely treatable disease.”
Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a pediatrician with American Family Children’s Hospital, said ending fluoridation “would be a massive step backwards in our society.”
Opponents, including a handful of physicians and attorneys in a federal lawsuit seeking to force the Environmental Protection Agency to prohibit fluoridation, argued the risks to developing brains outweigh the benefits to oral health and that medication should be prescribed individually.
“I’m not an expert on the science,” said Tim Sprengelmeyer, who complained that he has to filter his tap water to remove fluoride. “It’s highly immoral to be drugging people against their will.”
Kimberly Smith said she is a lifelong Dane County resident who suffers from brittle teeth as a result of fluoridation, which could cost her $3,000 to repair. She said fluoridating the water supply violates residents’ rights of informed consent on medication.
“There’s no savings on my part when we’re talking about fluoride,” Smith said. “I want to take myself off something that is making me sick, and that is fluoride.”
Many opponents cited studies linking elevated fluoride exposure to lower intelligence in children, particularly those exposed in the womb and as infants. However, there is disagreement on what constitutes a safe level of fluoride.
Among them is a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics in which researchers found that 3 and 4-year-old boys whose mothers were exposed to higher levels of fluoride during pregnancy had IQ scores 4 to 5 points lower than those whose mothers did not drink fluoridated water. Girls exposed to higher fluoride levels had slightly higher IQs, though not enough to be statistically significant.
Public Health Madison and Dane County recommended maintaining the 0.7 ppm fluoride level in light of health disparities. Health department environmental epidemiologist Jeffrey Lafferty said the recent IQ studies did not account for other factors that can affect IQ scores.
Ald. Marsha Rummel, who was appointed to the utility board last year, sought to review the policy, which was last updated in 2014, in part because of the ongoing federal case. She agreed that the board should wait for more guidance from its technical advisors.
“I think there’s enough questions,” Rummel said. “At least for me there are.”
Board member Gene McLinn likened the issue to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2001 revision of drinking water standards for arsenic.
“It doesn’t happen all the time, and it doesn’t happen quickly,” McLinn said. “But these standards do change.”
*Original article online at https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/environment/madison-water-utility-postpones-change-to-fluoridation-policy-board-to-await-federal-study-of-health/article_63352c5b-f274-5c7f-90c8-f143a0f64ac1.html