The City of Rice Lake has added fluoride to water for 62 years. But every so often, discussion develops over stopping the process.
One such time was a Utilities Commission meeting earlier this month. Rice Lake Utilities general manager Scott Reimer said the issue was put on the agenda because it hadn’t been discussed since 1995.
Nearby Shell Lake also recently eliminated the practice of adding fluoride to city water, putting it in line with most area communities.
The addition of fluoride, which strengthens tooth enamel, costs approximately $10,000 per year, according to Reimer.
A small amount of fluoride naturally exists in Rice Lake’s water supply. Utilities adds fluoride to reach the 0.7 parts per million recommended by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The optimal amount was lowered in 2011 to 0.7. Prior to that, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation was 0.7 to 1.2.
According to the DHS, 90% of Wisconsin residents receives the optimal amount of fluoride in their water. However, Rice Lake is the only community in Barron County that adds fluoride to public water.
Utilities commissioner Daniel Wolner, said he felt it was a small price to pay for many in the community who haven’t learned good dental hygiene and can’t afford dental care.
“That’s a worthwhile expenditure because it saves money on dental expenditures,” said Wolner.
The American Dental Association agrees, stating that every $1 spent on community fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.
Dr. Jonathon Delf, a dentist at Arrowhead Family Dental, said he supports the pro-fluoridation stance of the ADA.
“Having fluoride in our water is especially important for kids who have yet to develop their adult teeth,” he said.
Delf said the ingested fluoride helps strengthen the enamel of adult teeth that have not come into a child’s mouth yet, making them more resistant to decay.
He added that brushing and flossing is still critical for good dental health.
But some believe fluoride may be behind other health problems and find the practice wasteful and intrusive.
Two such people are local residents Ahmyn Masci and Heather Haller, who have given public presentations on what they see as the cons of fluoridation. Masci said they would like to see a public referendum on the matter.
“I think it would be a lot more effective to subsidize fluoride tablets,” said Masci, a former city resident who paid for reverse osmosis technology to remove fluoride before his family moved to rural Rice Lake.
Haller said she does not want fluoridated water in her home or Badger Brew coffee business, but can’t afford a system that would effectively remove it.
“It’s a form of forced medication,” she said. “No choice is not a choice.”
Rice Lake Utilities water and wastewater manager Wally Thom said less than 1% of the city’s water is actually consumed. Haller believes this is wasteful.
“You wouldn’t buy a gallon milk and drink a cap full of it,” she said. “With the amount of money they’re spending on it, that could be a lot of fluoride tablets.”
Health fears stem from studies linking fluoride to health problems. Most notable is a lengthy 2006 National Research Council study connecting excessive fluoride to weakened enamal and bone problems.
The NRC report concluded that consuming water with 4 parts per million of fluoride-the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum allowable standard-can lead to health problems. The the report also identified the potential neurological, thyroid and an assortment of other problems.
The ADA dismisses anti-fluoride reports as misinformation and “junk science.”
The Center for Disease Control also supports public water fluoridation, calling it one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century. Fluoride was first introduced to water supplies about 60 years ago when toothpastes and mouthwashes did not contain fluoride. Today fluoride is common in toothpaste and mouthwash.
However, most developed nations do not fluoridate water and 150 North American and Australian communities have stopped adding fluoride since 2010, according to the Fluoride Action Network. Largest among them is Portland, Oregon.
Masci said he opposes fluoridation more for the inefficiency of the process more than the health concerns, but is also skeptical about whether or not the source of fluoride for community water is safe. The most common fluoride used in water is fluorosilicic acid, a biproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry, according to the CDC.
He added that even if the city uses a safe fluoridation standard, people can still be exposed to too much as a result of how much they consume and other environmental factors.
The amount of fluoride occurring naturally in water varies depending on location. Fluoride does not affect the taste or appearance of water.
Delf said the cost of fluoridating is prohibitive for many communities. He said Arrowhead Family Dental does offer fluoride tablets to parents who would like their children to have additional fluoride.
No public comment was given about fluoride at the Utilities Commission meeting.
Masci said he was not aware fluoride would be discussed because the commission does not publicize its agenda in a timely fashion.
The commission agendas are usually posted on the city website during the week of the Thursday meetings. Masci said he plans to voice his concerns at the commission meeting next month.
Reimer said Utilities plans to continue to fluoridate unless there is strong public support of ending the process.