Onalaska has been adding fluoride to its water for decades, but there could be a movement bubbling to stop the practice.
A couple of city residents have questioned whether the city should continue adding fluoride to its water supply to prevent tooth decay, said Onalaska Alderman Jack Pogreba, chairman of the city’s Board of Public Works.
Pogreba emphasized he isn’t coming down on one side of the question but said a discussion — and maybe even a referendum — would be a good idea.
“I’m not against it,” Pogreba said. “There was a concern. Let’s talk about it.”
The city has used the additive since the 1960s, said city engineer Jarrod Holter, “and we haven’t had any problems.”
Pogreba, Holter and other members of the public works board are well aware of the controversy that surrounded Holmen’s fluoridation referendum four years ago.
Opponents argued that the vast majority of the fluoride in public water is not actually consumed by people — it goes down the laundry or shower drain. They also raised concerns that consumption of fluoride could result in harmful side effects ranging from discolored teeth to brittle bones and worse.
Supporters said fluoridation is widely considered one of the major medical success stories of the 20th century, with proven results in promoting dental health.
“There’s two camps. There’s not a lot of middle-ground people,” Holter said. “You better get ready for some long Board of Public Works meetings if we get started down that path.”
The city spends about $30,000 per year to fluoridate the water, said Jim Prindle, manager of the city’s water and sanitary sewer system.
He expects the cost to drop soon if the government adopts new standards that would lower the recommended amount of flouride per liter of water.
Two questions for Pogreba are whether people are drinking so much bottled water that they’re not getting the benefits of the fluoride and whether it’s worth the money to fluoridate when so much water is used for bathing, laundry, washing cars and watering lawns.
“How much of that fluoride is going down the drain?” Pogreba asked. “I hate to flush money down the drain, but that’s basically what we do with that.”