A decision by the Village of Walden Board of Trustees last Tuesday set the wheels in motion to end the fluoridation of drinking water in the village after concerns were cited regarding overexposure and erosive effects on the village water system.
Officials provided a host of reasons on why the fluoride needed to go, not least because of its corrosive effect on well parts. “The fluoride just eats them,” said water operator Fred Perna, who has been with the Department of Public Works for 17 years.
Perna said the fluoride wore down chemical pump parts to the point where pieces became so brittle they broke. Lanc and Tully engineer John O’Rourke said that fluoride placed “heavy wear and tear” on water system equipment. “It is very caustic,” he said.
“Most of my municipalities do not fluorinate.”
Residents quickly steered the conversation toward the key concern in the matter, which was health safety, with some complaining that the decision should have involved more public input.
The use of fluoride was first lauded by medical researchers as an effective and safe method to prevent tooth decay in the 1930s. The first municipality to fluoridate its public water supply was Grand Rapids, MI, in 1945. The Village of Walden followed suit in 1953.
Proctor and Gamble introduced “Crest” brand toothpaste to the public in 1955, with the product gaining almost immediate popularity. The widespread use of fluoride in municipal water systems grew slowly, with its relative low cost considered a major advantage both then and now.
In 1990, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out a plan to see 75 percent of Americans receive fluorinated water by the year 2000. The CDC reports that fluorinated drinking water now reaches more than 70 percent of the U.S. population.
Trustee Susan Rumbold, who has worked for years as a dental professional, explained her reasoning behind not wanting to continue fluoridating village water. “The EPA finds that people are being over-fluoridated,” she said. “The main concern is something called fluorosis.”
Fluorosis is a condition where overexposure to fluoride causes spots, staining or mottling of teeth in babies and young children, whose teeth are still forming. In recent decades, fluoride has become a common additive in processed foods and drinks, toothpastes and other dental products like mouthwash. As a result, more people are being exposed to more fluoride from multiple sources.
As Rumbold pointed out, there is evidence that excess intake of fluoride can also lead to bone disease.
The EPA website states that, “Some people who drink water containing fluoride well in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for many years could get bone disease including pain and tenderness of the bones,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states, “if exposure is high enough, these bones may be more fragile and brittle and there may be a greater risk of breaking the bone.”
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level for fluoride in drinking water at four milligrams per liter. The New York State Department of Health has set a limit of 2.2 milligrams per liter. The Public Health Service now recommends that public water supplies maintain a range of 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of drinking water.
Fred Perna explained that the village monitors drinking water on a daily basis to ensure that fluoride levels remain below 1.1 milligrams per liter. He said he had been lobbying for a long time to stop using fluoride in the village’s water supply.
Perna may not just be concerned about machine parts and tooth decay, as Village Manager John Revella pointed out. “There’s a risk with people handling it,” he said.
The Occupational Safety and Heath Administration makes no bones about it, no pun intended. Occupational exposure to hydrofluoric acid vapors may cause eye, nose and throat irritation, bronchitis, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), osteosclerosis (bone thickening), as well as cardiac arrhythmia.
As a result, there are strict standards set by the federal government for the occupational handling of chemicals like fluorosilicic acid, the compound used by the majority of municipalities that fluoridate their drinking water that contains hydrofluoric acid. Perna and his coworkers wear chemical respirator masks, aprons and gloves when working with it.
“It’s a very harsh chemical,” he said.
The village maintains a large store of drinking water that will take some time to drain.
“We have roughly two million gallons of treated drinking water in tanks,” said Perna.
“We go through almost 750,000 gallons per day.”
Perna said the scheduled flushing of village fire hydrants, taking place all throughout the month of May, would help to flush out the entire water system. He said the village would stop treating its drinking water supply with fluoride beginning May 5.
For more info on fluoride, its health risks and benefits, visit the EPA website at www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants , then click on “Basic information about drinking water,” and then “fluoride.”