Storage and safety concerns cited in the decision
ST. CROIX FALLS – In a sort of deja vu of past policy debates, the St. Croix Falls Common Council voted to remove fluoride from the city’s water system, in part due to safety and storage concerns, as well as how the vast bulk of the water they treat is never ingested by the people it’s meant to help with dental health.
The decision came during the regular council session on Monday, Jan. 28, where they discussed discontinuing the addition of fluoride to the city’s water system.
It is not the first time the issue was front and center before the common council, as past research shows the “fluoride question” has been moved at least four other times before the council – once in 2008, twice in 2009 and then in 2013, where the city worked with the Polk County Health Department to hold a fluoride symposium at the Civic Auditorium, where they discussed both the pros and cons of adding fluoride to the water, ultimately leading to the council keeping the status quo and continuing to fluoridate.
But the past debate has never really looked closely at one primary issue: storage, handling and monitoring of the fluoridation system at five city wells. The fluoride debate went into several other areas: cost, safety and effectiveness.
“I’m not arguing the benefits of fluoride … I don’t think any of us are arguing the benefits,” city public works director Matt Larson said as he went over the actual costs to the city of maintaining and operating the system, including man-hours, while also pointing out the noted safety issues in the storage, handling and precision injection into the city’s water system.
Larson broke down the systematic costs of the city’s 2018 fluoridation, including labor, at $9,292.72, but he primarily focused on several serious safety concerns with the handling of the hydrofluosilicic acid, which has dilution as well as the storage issues, and may require additional storage shed construction, as they currently have the city’s supply sharing the same chemical room with the city’s chlorine supply.
“If these two chemicals mix they cause the chlorine to give off a gas … which is dangerous and potentially deadly,” Larson said. He also cited the likely need to purchase expensive metering pumps to dispense the diluted chemical into the system, which is not only expensive but runs water system risks if done wrong. “There’s a lot of chance of human error.”
Larson said that if they continue t0 fluoridate, they should construct sheds to separate chemical storage at each of the city’s five water wells, due to the corrosive nature of the chemicals and the risks from off-gassing.
“It strikes me that the safety of the (city) crew is the overriding issue,” stated Mayor Arnie Carlson, who suggested they get more data and possibly get more public input.
In other parts of his presentation, Larson was specific to the use and cost of the city’s fluoridation policy. He noted the volume of water pumped each year at approximately 100.7 million gallons, which is all treated, although less than 1 percent of that, or an estimated 1.07 million gallons, are actually drunk, assuming approximately 1 gallon daily per person, meaning 99 percent of the city’s treated water goes to lawns, car washes, showers, dishwashing and the like, eventually ending up in the St. Croix River after treatment.
But not every council member was on board with the elimination of fluoride, as Alderperson Chris Chelberg seemed to be the only member in favor of keeping the status quo.
“I think there are a lot of residents who benefit from this,” Chelberg said, suggesting the annual city cost is relatively small versus the dental benefits. “I just see that $9,000 bill and think you could really rack up a $9,000 bill at a dentist or a doctor!”
“Then we need to make it more safety compliant,” Alderperson Joy Zasadny said.
Chelberg noted that the benefits of fluoridation are well known, which is one of the facts that emerged in previous fluoride discussions.
Those dental benefits are well documented, and numerous health agencies and local dentists often cite water fluoridation as one of the top 10 public health advances of the modern era, since fluoride was first added to municipal water supplies across America in the 1940s, which was part of a nationwide effort to prevent or reduce tooth decay, primarily aimed at children under 8 years old.
At the past symposium, local dentists credited the local fluoridation practice with reducing an exceedingly high number of pulpotomies, better known as “kiddie root canals,” in the city years ago.
However, there is now a broad variety of ways to get fluoride, including tablets, rinses, toothpaste or mouthwashes, which might make the need for municipal fluoridation less critical.
“It’s inefficient as a way to deliver (fluoride to the city),” Zasadny said. “We could almost subsidize people who still want fluoride, (with the savings of not adding it to the city water).”
While fluoride is common in trace amounts in most fresh water, opponents of the practice claim it causes numerous maladies in children and adults, and in the past, there have been national recommendations to keep fluoridated water out of baby formula, as it can lead to fluorosis, which is a sort of streaking or spotting that can be seen in teeth during growth stages. The baby formula issue is one of the reasons the issue came before previous common councils.
Out of cited concerns, in 2011, the federal government recommended reducing the volume of fluoride in drinking water down to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water. The previous recommended range had been between 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, going back to the early 1960s.
Larson noted that while fluoridation is not required by the state or the DNR, other practices are required, from hydrant flushing to cross-connectivity issues, which suffer from staff cuts and ongoing fluoride monitoring and treatment.
“It’s not a DNR requirement, it’s a city decision,” Larson noted, citing the potential for saved staff time and labor, which might allow for more of the required state activities.
Ultimately, the council voted 2 to 1 to discontinue the fluoridation practice, with Chelberg as the lone advocate for keeping the status quo.
Past discussions have suggested that even with the immediate halting of the fluoridation, it may take as long as two months for all the fluoridated water to be used that is currently in the city’s water system.
*See original article at http://fluoridealert.org/st-croix-falls-1-30-19/