PICAYUNE — Picayune residents have been getting a daily dose of fluoride to help protect their teeth for about two months now.
The process began Feb. 15 and is added weekly to the operating wells in Picayune. Through a grant with the Mississippi Health Department the proper equipment and chemicals were supplied to the city, said Public Works Director Chad Frierson.
“They basically gave us everything we need to operate the system,” Frierson said.
That grant requiress that Picayune add the chemical to the water for a period of at least five years, after that the city can opt out if they choose. For the first year, the health department will supply the fluoride. At the end of that year the city will cover those costs.
Positive effects come from the addition of fluoride to the water. Even though the substance is naturally occurring in ground water, at a concentration of 0.15 parts per million in Picayune, children get the most benefits if the concentration is slightly higher, said Lance Stewart, Picayune’s Head Water Operator.
Proper concentrations, set by the health department, are expected to be within 0.7 to 1.3 parts per million. Any higher than that and side effects begin to kick in, said Eric LaPrairie, Picayune Water Operator. Those side effects could range from fluorosis, or a yellowing of the teeth, in lesser concentrations to brain and spinal chord contamination and brittle bones in long term high concentrations. To experience any of the major side effects, a person would have to be subjected to concentrations of 20 milligrams per day for 20 years, LaPrairie said.
“The key to the whole thing is long term exposure,” LaPrairie said.
However, if the levels of fluoride are maintained in the optimal range, it is good for teeth and believed to be good for bones. Stewart said it has been proven only to be good for teeth.
All levels that go into the water in Picayune are monitored daily, except for weekends, Stewart said. Once a month a water sample is sent to the Health Department for their evaluation in order to maintain compliance.
In the 1940s, there was some concern that the chemical was responsible for cancer in some patients, but a number of studies conducted over the years since then have concluded there is no substantial evidence linking cancer risk with the introduction of fluoride in water.
Fluoride not only occurs naturally in ground water, but also a number of foods that depend on water, such as vegetables, LaPrairie said.
“Fluoride is pretty much found in everything,” LaPrairie said.
Each week or so, about 50 pounds of fluoride in powder form is added to each operating well of the water supply in Picayune, Stewart said. This is done by adding it to a large vat and diluting it with water before it is injected to the water supply, he said. This process raises the fluoride level in Picayune from the natural level to Health Department standards.
Those who are at the most risk for side effects are LaPrairie and Stewart, who handle the chemical before it is diluted in water. Stewart said the if it got on skin, the fluoride would cause sores. If it was inhaled, which would be difficult since the form they deal with is about the consistency of sugar, then the most dangerous side effects would take place.
“It can pretty much drop you, so we got to be pretty careful with it,” Stewart said.
The two men said this is nothing compared to the other substance that has been added to the water supply for some time now, chlorine. Chlorine is deadly if dealt with in a careless manner.
“You got to show respect to chlorine,” Stewart said.
Frierson said chlorine is added to the water to remove and prevent the formation of bacteria in the water. City water usually is not consumed until two months after the water is pumped from the ground. That long time frame is due to the large amounts of storage area in the city with tanks, he said.