A change in federal health recommendations has spurred Snowmass Village to revisit the age-old debate of whether to continue putting fluoride in its drinking water.
The federal government last month lowered the amount of fluoride it recommends adding to drinking water to 0.7 milligrams per liter because some children in the country are getting too much, according to The Associated Press. Aspen and Snowmass already follow that standard, but the news has prompted the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District to reconsider the practice, which has produced strong support and opposition nationwide in its more than 50 years of widespread use.
Health professionals on both sides of the issue made their case at the district’s board meeting Wednesday. The board also consulted Glenwood Springs-based engineering company SGM to prepare an objective report on the most current research on the subject. Fluoridated drinking water has been said to decrease tooth decay and cavities, but ingesting too much has proven negative health consequences, and more research needs to be done on other potential health impacts, according to the SGM report.
Tom Lankering, an Aspen chiropractor, pointed out that technicians adding fluoride to tanks have to wear hazmat suits.
“That should be enough to make you say, ‘Why? So what’s going with that?’” Lankering said.
Dental-health professionals present were adamantly in favor of the practice, though. Kelly Keeffe, a clinical dental hygienist who also works for the Aspen to Parachute Dental Health Alliances, said students in Basalt have more than 33 percent more dental caries, a term for cavities, than schoolchildren in Aspen, Snowmass and Glenwood Springs, where water is fluoridated.
“Dental caries is a disease,” Keith said. “It is the most chronic disease of childhood, and it is preventable, and one of the two science-based ways of preventing caries … is community water fluoridation.”
Board member Dave Dawson said he understood the dental-health benefits but remained concerned about long-term risks to other aspects of health. His colleague, Tim Belinski, suggested that the board digest the information and make a decision at its next meeting.
“It’s important to understand the facts,” Belinski said. “I think it’s great that the district is interested in evaluating this at all.”
The city of Aspen may soon discuss the issue, too. It also adds 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water, a direction the City Council gave in 2012, said Public Works Director Scott Miller.
“We see that as the current direction,” Miller said. “We have talked internally about going back to council, and we probably will sometime in the near future because we do it, it seems like … about every four or five years, just check in and (say), ‘What do you want to do?’”
“We’ll probably always get a debate — about half the people for and half the people against,” Miller added.
Snowmass Water and Sanitation Board President Joe Farrell likened the controversy over fluoride to a sports replay.
“I’m the son of a dentist, and I’m the grandson of a dentist and I’m the son-in-law of a dentist,” Farrell said. “We shouldn’t be forcing this on people, but my father is rolling around in his grave that I’m even considering the other side. … After reviewing the replay over and over, I don’t see any conclusive evidence to change what we’re doing right now.”
Fluoridation costs the district about $3,500 annually — a relatively insignificant amount in its budget, District Manager Kit Hamby said. The board plans to return to the discussion at its June 17 meeting.