Water in Parkland soon will lack a fluoride additive that a local company has been providing customers for 10 years.
Board members for Parkland Light & Water, a private cooperative system that serves about 7,500 customers in the unincorporated community south of Tacoma, voted this month to stop fluoridation, which is used to reduce tooth decay and prevent oral health problems.
The practice will stop after inventory runs out, which general manager Mark Johnson said Friday could be around the end of summer.
The board was not opposed to fluoridation; the decision was a cost-saving effort, Johnson said.
“We’re stopping because the process is not cost-effective,” he said.
An analysis by Parkland Light & Water found it spent about $350,000 to carry out water fluoridation over five years. In that time, Johnson said, an estimated 0.03 percent of the fluoride was consumed by children ages 2 to 14, the target group for fluoride.
“It doesn’t make sense to use our membership’s money for that kind of return,” he said.
The decision will primarily affect those from low-income families who don’t have access to dental care, said Mary Jennings, dental director for Parkland’s Lindquist Dental Clinic for Children.
“It takes away a brick in our safety net,” she said.
Johnson said he and the board are concerned about low-income families, but he thought it was wasteful to spend $70,000 a year on an ineffective process. Money should instead benefit programs that provide fluoride directly to those who need it, he said.
That is a difficult goal to achieve, Jennings said.
“We can’t go into every home like water does,” she said.
The decision to cease fluoridation came after a contract with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department expired in March. The agreement came after the Health Department tried to mandate utilities to fluoridate water in 2002. After lengthy court appeals in 2003, the Washington State Supreme Court sided with the cooperatives.
By then Parkland Light & Water had entered into a contract that arranged for about $250,000 in infrastructure improvements to accommodate fluoridation. The company would have had to pay back that amount had it terminated the contract, Johnson said.
Health Department spokeswoman Edie Jeffers said Parkland has been fortunate to receive a critical public health benefit through fluoridation and that the agency is disappointed the practice won’t continue.
“Fluoridation is one of the most cost-effective ways to enhance oral health,” Jeffers said. “We’re happy they were partners in that for 10 years.”
The company held public meetings on the issue, Johnson said. No mailers were sent out, he said.
Pacific Lutheran University, a company member, has about 3,500 students who use the water. The student government passed a resolution urging Parkland Light & Water to continue fluoridation, and many other members, residents and businesses that use the utility sent letters for and against it over several months.
The Campaign for Dental Health said fluoridated water is available to a growing number of Americans. About 74 percent of homes nationwide are connected to public water systems that receive fluoridated water, according to the organization’s website.
The group said it is the cheapest way to provide fluoride to communities. The per-person annual cost of fluoride rinse programs is about double the cost of fluoridated water, according to the website.
Johnson said he doesn’t disagree with the health benefits of fluoridated water, but he thinks there needs to be a more cost-effective, less invasive way to provide it.
Feedback from members over the years, he said, shows they don’t want fluoride forced on them.
“(The board members) have to take into account what their members want,” Johnson said.
Jennings said she doesn’t understand the decision to stop the process.
“I just want fluoride in the water for everybody,” she said. “I think it’s one of the best ideas we’ve ever had.”