Just over 67 years ago, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first city in the world to adjust the fluoride in its water supply.
Scientists had determined that fluoride could be used to reduce tooth decay, and many communities followed Grand Rapids’ lead, including the borough of Myerstown. Although he wasn’t sure of the exact date, Chris Strause, operations manager for the Myerstown Water Authority, said Thursday that a local women’s club paid for a pump to add hydrofluorosilicic acid, the technical name for fluoride, to the authority’s water supply.
Today, more than 195 million people in the United States are served by public water that contains enough fluoride to protect teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Myerstown water customers are no longer among them.
Effective Jan. 31, Myerstown Water Authority stopped adding fluoride, after receiving a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to do so.
“I think we are the first people in the state of Pennsylvania allowed to discontinue it,” Strause said.
Lisa Kasianowitz, South-central Community Relations Coordinator for DEP, wrote in an email Thursday that DEP “is not aware of any other authorities or municipalities that have stopped adding fluoride in the South-central region.”
Expense was not a reason for the move. Strause said the cost of fluoridation was between $3,000 and $4,000 a year, not counting any pump maintenance or electrical costs. The savings generated from the change “will not be enough to drop rates,” Strauss said.
Dan Flanagan, chairman of the five-member authority board, said, “The decision was based on the ADA (American Dental Association) now recommending that fluoride should be administered topically instead of being ingested.”
Lydia Hall, media relations manager for the ADA, disputed Flanagan’s statement.
“No, the ADA continues to advocate the value of community water fluoridation as well as fluoride supplements and topical administration when recommended by a dentist,” Hall wrote in an email.
Flanagan also cited “hazardous conditions for employees” of the system, noting that “(hydrofluorosilicic) acid is very corrosive.”
Flanagan said residents who want fluoride can continue to use it, either by buying toothpaste or drinking water that contains the mineral.
All customers of the Myerstown system and local doctors were notified by mail of the proposed removal of fluoride, which the authority board approved late last year.
“One doctor wrote back with a concern,” Strause said, but no others did. Only one other customer was “upset.”
“More folks were happy to have it out of the water system,” Strause said.
Strause has not received any feedback in the month since fluoride was halted.
DEP’s Kasianowitz wrote that Myerstown received a public water supply permit allowing it to stop fluoridation on Oct. 13.
“DEP has taken the position that it is neutral on fluoridation,” Kasianowitz wrote, adding, “it’s a local decision up to the water (authority) to fluoridate or not. That said, if a public water supplier wants to add fluoride, they must do so in a way DEP approves. They must meet DEP’s design and operational standards.”
Addition or deletion of any treatment process requires a permit, Kasianowitz wrote.
She added that DEP’s Safe Drinking Water program staff has “heard discussions from some (water authorities) about not adding fluoride but we have no way of knowing how serious they might be about it. Even if DEP does know, we cannot reveal any of that information until we have received a permit application.”
In its official notice to customers, the Myerstown Water Authority wrote that it “recognizes there are conflicting opinions about the benefits of water fluoridation. Pennsylvania does not require public water suppliers to fluoridate; therefore, we have decided to stop. Parents of young children, and anyone else wanting the benefits of fluoridation, should discuss this change with their doctors to determine if fluoride supplements should be used.”
Fluoride does not affect the taste and quality of water.
A variety of organizations and websites argue that fluoridation is a danger, including the Fluoride Action Network (www.fluoridealert.org), www.naturalnews.com/fluoride.html and www.holisticmed.com/fluoride.
The last of those three includes a list of problems associated with fluoride use and refers to scientific studies that allege fluoride’s connection to brain damage, cancer, birth defects, changes to bone structure, osteoarthritis and acute adverse reactions.
On its website, www.ada.org, the American Dental Association calls water fluoridation “the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay” and added that the CDC “has proclaimed community water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
The ADA compared adding fluoride to water as similar to “fortifying milk with Vitamin D, table salt with iodine, and bread and cereals with folic acid.”
Noting that “studies prove fluoridation continues to be effective in reducing tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent,” the ADA “continues to endorse fluoridation of community water supplies as safe and effective for preventing tooth decay.”
The CDC, on its website, www.cdc.gov, explains that fluoride, a mineral, helps to prevent or reverse tooth decay.
“When a person eats sugar and other refined carbohydrates, these bacteria produce acid that removes minerals from the surface of the tooth. Fluoride helps to remineralize tooth surfaces and prevents cavities from continuing to form.”
For every $1 invested to fluoridate public water, about $38 is saved in dental-treatment costs, according to the CDC.