GRANADA HILLS – The Metropolitan Water District will begin adding more fluoride to Southland drinking water – including in the San Fernando Valley – despite concerns by some activists that too much of the chemical may cause health problems.
State and federal officials have long advocated fluoridated water to prevent tooth decay, and MWD officials voted to add fluoride at district plants four years ago.
In October, officials will begin retrofitting five treatment plants – including one in Granada Hills serving the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys – to boost the fluoride levels.
But members of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and the Environmental Working Group say adding too much fluoride could pose a health risk for children.
“We’ve associated it with bone cancer among teenage boys,” said Bill Walker, vice president for the Oakland-based Environmental Working Group, which cites research by the National Resource Council.
“We find that many water districts don’t want to know the truth or consider the evidence.”
The two environmental groups also cited a 2006 study that found the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard was too high for consumption among children.
Currently, Southern California water contains 0.2 to 0.4 milligrams per liter of fluoride. The MWD plans to raise levels to 0.7 to 0.8 milligrams per liter.
Edgar Dymally, the water district’s senior environmental specialist, said the levels were determined based on estimated water consumption by California consumers.
Factors considered included warm temperatures that mean Californians drink more water – so fluoride levels are lower than in other parts of the country.
“That’s the level consistent with the recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention and state of California Department of Public Health,” Dymally said.
Recommendations to fluoridate water first were made in the 1940s to help reduce tooth decay, especially among children and the elderly.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends no more than 2 milligrams per liter, but environmental groups fear water agencies may continue to raise the levels.
“Even at the 0.8 milligrams-per-liter level, even without any other exposure, it’s too high,” said Jeff Green with Citizens for Safe Drinking Water.
“We asked the MWD to remedy the situation,” Green said. “There’s plenty of people out there who are angry. We fully expect there to be lawsuits.”
But Dymally said the levels are well within safe ranges. Studies have found that water containing 4 milligrams of fluoride per liter can be harmful. If consumed in excess for years, it can contribute to bone disease in some people.
“We hear the concerns made from the critics, but we rely on every credible agency for regulations,” Dymally said.
“When we go online with our fluoridation program, the water will look and taste the same.”
State health officials have said studies on fluoride and its relation to bone cancer are inconsistent.
“People have looked at it, our toxicologists have looked at it and we have not found any concerns,” said Dr. Donald Lyman, chief medical director for chronic disease and injury control for the state’s Department of Health Services.
“We’re very cautious about posing risks to everyone,” Lyman said.
Health experts do concur, however, that fluoridated water should not be added to baby formula, which already may contain fluoride.
“The official word from the dental association is you shouldn’t add fluoridated water to formula,” said Lyman.
Lyman said the state also runs the largest cancer registry in the nation and has seen no trends or clusters to suggest California’s drinking water has too much fluoride.
The $5.5 million retrofitting project is being funded by the California Dental Association Foundation and will begin in late October at the Henry J. Mills Filtration Plant in Riverside. The Joseph Jensen plant on Balboa Boulevard in Granada Hills will be the last facility to be upgraded.
The plant distributes water within the San Fernando Valley, to Ventura County and south to West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The Granada Hills plant is the largest west of the Mississippi River, with the ability to deliver up to 750 million gallons of water per day, enough to fill the Rose Bowl every 31 minutes, according to the MWD.