After hearing speeches from six impassioned anti-fluoridation citizens, the Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors unanimously passed a motion Thursday to continue the fluoridation of its drinking water.
The board accepted the recommendation to continue fluoridation from its Natural Resources and Technical Systems Committee, which last year reviewed citizens’ petitions against the practice. The board agreed to stay updated on scientific advances and public health guidance regarding fluoridation.
Earlier Thursday, a subcommittee of the Durham County Board of Health had recommended to the board that fluoridation continue.
Fluoride is added to drinking water as a means to stop tooth decay. OWASA serves Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and its website states that the current level of fluoride in drinking water is 0.7 mg/L.
Corey Sturmer, who created the blog DurhamAgainstFluoride.com in January 2012, said he’s concerned about what consuming fluoride might do to the body.
“I have a real issue with dentists saying that adding fluoride to the water is good for your teeth, because they don’t have the expertise to understand how it affects the rest of the body,” Sturmer said, using “thyroid disruption, skeletal fluorosis (and) hip fractures” as examples of ailments associated with inorganic fluorides.
Sturmer spoke at the OWASA meeting and told board members that they were breaking the law by “medicating” the water.
Parker Emmerson, a Chapel Hill resident and office manager at Mediterranean Deli, told board members that they were trying to drug residents by putting fluoride into the drinking water.
“We’ve all heard the old adage, ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it,’” Emmerson said. “The water is broken and the only reason it’s broken is because you tried to fix it. The fluoridated water is breaking my body; it’s breaking your body and everyone else’s body.”
Emmerson, a practicing Muslim, said that his religion does not allow him to consume poisons, which includes fluoride.
Charlee Eades started to ask the board a series of questions, prompting Alan Rimer, chair of the board, to remind all speakers that public comment was not meant as a time to quiz the board members.
Eades questioned whether the board had considered other methods for dental care, and the costs of other methods.
“If it’s necessary to fluoridate the impoverished children and other citizens who may, or may not, receive adequate dental care, is there a way to provide services to these individuals and not force the medication en masse?” Eades asked.
Before the public comments, board member Terri Buckner clarified that none of the board members are health professionals, and that the board is meant to make use of current best practices, like fluoridation. She said the Orange County or North Carolina boards of health are more qualified to address citizens’ concerns about the health of fluoridation.
Dr. Gary Slade, director of the UNC School of Dentistry’s oral epidemiology PhD program, said in an interview that he worries that citizens don’t acknowledge all of the benefits of fluoridation.
“All too often, I see the argument (that) the benefits aren’t that great, and they’re getting smaller,” said Slade.
Slade was involved in research published earlier this year that showed that the presence of fluoride in drinking water — already known to be beneficial for children — also decreases tooth decay in adults.
Slade said that if there was danger with fluoridation, he thinks researchers would have found it.
“We keep looking and we do not see it,” Slade said. “Scientifically we cannot find this smoking gun that is always an accusation in the non-scientific literature.”
Slade said the discontinuation of fluoridation would eliminate choice. When drinking water is fluoridated, he said, people have the choice of buying water bottles or filtering their water, but when it’s not fluoridated, it’s difficult to put fluoride into water if citizens want or need it.
Earlier this year, the city councils of Graham and Mebane also considered ending the fluoridation of the cities’ drinking water, which is treated by a jointly-owned plant.
Victor Quick, utilities director for the City of Graham, who approached the Graham council with concerns about fluoride, said that although Graham’s council decided to stop fluoridating the water, Mebane’s council disagreed, and the cities’ drinking water still contains fluoride.