The Santa Clara Valley Water District’s board of directors listened to 33 people argue for and against adding fluoride to the district’s three water treatment plants and three district-owned water supply wells at its Nov. 15 board meeting before unanimously adopting new policy language to support fluoridation for San Jose water.
San Jose, the largest city in the country without fluoridated water, is more complex than other cities because the water residents drink and bathe in comes from various sources. Santa Clara Valley Water District sells wholesale water to retail water delivery companies.
In San Jose, there are three water retailers: San Jose Water Company, which serves about 80 percent of the city; Great Oaks Water Company, providing about 10 percent of the city’s water to southern portions of San Jose; and the city’s own Municipal Water Company serving Evergreen and Alviso.
The latter company already fluoridates; San Jose Water Company does not. To make the situation even more complicated, San Jose Water Company gets 50 percent of its water from the water district, 40 percent from groundwater or wells and the remainder from runoff in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That means that if the water district is fluoridated and San Jose Water Company is not, residents may not be receiving the 0.7 parts per million fluoridated water that is optimal to prevent tooth decay; there’s no way to test.
“The San Jose Water Company will continue to participate with the Health Trust and the water district to ensure the optimum fluoride dosage is delivered to all customers,” John Tang, San Jose Water Company corporate communications manager, told The Resident.
Adding another complication, a 1995 law prohibits water companies from passing fluoridation costs on to rate payers. So both the water district and San Jose Water Company must seek other, outside methods of providing the capital needed to build the infrastructure necessary to fluoridate the water.
Sources indicate that process will take at least one year and more likely two before the policy goes into effect. The nonprofit Health Trust and the California Department of Public Health plan to work with staff from the water wholesaler and retailer to find potential funding sources to build, operate and maintain fluoridation. Currently, the capital costs for fluoridation run between $4.4 million and $9.5 million. Annual operations and maintenance will cost about $836,000.
Not everyone is happy about the process. At the board meeting, residents in the audience argued passionately on both sides of the issue.
County Supervisor Liz Kniss rebutted one anti-fluoride petitioner who suggested that fluoride lowered children’s IQs. “My kids developed normally with no learning problems,” she said at the meeting, “and Palo Alto water has been fluoridated since the 1950s.”
Unfortunately, the Internet sometimes provides people with misinformation, John Pisacane, a Willow Glen dentist and president of the Santa Clara County Dental Society, told The Resident.
“Well-meaning people can get misled by information on the Internet. Tooth decay is man’s most common disease and can affect a person’s entire life. Bad teeth can lead to other diseases, but we can change that effect with a few cents of fluoride in the water.”
Speakers against the addition of fluoride were adamant about the diseases they say are caused by fluoride. Some quoted studies stating that fluoride causes a variety of diseases, including certain rare cancers. Some maintained that adding fluoride to water supplies causes fluoridosis, which causes white and brown spots on baby and permanent teeth from too much fluoride. A couple of people objected on financial grounds, noting the lack of city, county and state money.
Another anti-fluoride speaker argued that osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, is caused by fluoridated water.
However, Heather Steinbruebl told The Resident, “It’s easy to not drink fluoridated water. Bottled or filtered water will cover you there,” she said.
Katherine Mathewson expressed concerns on religious grounds, arguing that she would be medicated by drinking the water. Others claimed that the use of fluoride would be a “victory for social justice,” allowing San Jose’s poorer population to get the benefits other children received from fluoride tablets and dental visits.
Susan Chummers, from the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood says she has “seen the ravages of dental decay first hand. After teaching in an affluent neighborhood in Saratoga for CUSD, I retired and substituted in Title 1 schools, where I saw something I had never seen before, 5-year-old children with a mouth full of silver dots instead of teeth! This was not just a one-time occurrence, but happened over and over. … To deny these children and all children the benefits of fluoride would be a crime.”
Dentists at the meeting disclaimed all of anti-fluoride arguments. Pisacane explained to The Resident that overfluoridated water does cause fluoridosis, but that’s at much higher levels than the water district is looking to add. “Fluoride is dangerous at 4 parts per million, but we have recommended 0.7 parts per million. That allows users to get most of the cavity-reducing benefits without side effects.”
To make sure the city’s youngest residents get the fluoride, Health Trust CEO Frederick Ferrer said, “We look forward to working with the water district to form an innovative public-private partnership to put a financing package together to make this policy a reality. The first step will be to figure out how much it will actually cost.”
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