TAHLEQUAH — Fluoride is considered nature’s cavity fighter.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in all water sources, and research has shown that fluoride can help prevent tooth decay in children and adults. It also helps make teeth more resistant to acid attacks that cause cavities, and serves to repair early stages of tooth decay.
Community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to help prevent tooth decay, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes the practice as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974 requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the level of contaminants in water meant for human consumption at which no unfavorable health effects may occur. The health goals based on possible health risks and exposure over a lifetime with an adequate margin of safety, are called maximum contaminant level goals, or MCLG.
The EPA defines contaminants as any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or matter in water. The MCLG for fluoride is 4 milligrams per liter or 4 parts per million, while the secondary standard is 2 milligrams per liter of 2 parts per million.
Secondary standards are guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects, such as skin or tooth discoloration, or aesthetic effects like taste, odor and color.
In complying with EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality drinking water standards regarding water fluoridation, Tahlequah Public Works Authority conducts random tests to maintain an average fluoride level of 0.9 ppm, which is below the maximum contaminant level goal of 4 and below the secondary standard guideline of 2. According to testing for fluoride levels from January 2012 through January 2013, the average fluoride ppm is 0.893. The highest reading was 1.19 in February 2012, while the lowest was 0.53 in November 2012.
According to the CDC, the optimal levels of fluoride in drinking water in order to prevent tooth decay ranges from 0.7 ppm to 1.2 ppm, depending on the average maximum daily air temperature of the area in question.
TPWA General Manager Mike Doublehead said testing water quality is their main concern and daily efforts are made to meet official and unofficial regulations.
“Our number one concern is for the safety of our residents and complying with applicable standards and guidelines set by the Oklahoma DEQ and the federal EPA,” he said. “Those are the standards which we strive each and every day to meet.”
Jerry Linn, who is the Hinds Water Treatment Plant supervisor, said arbitrary samples are taken every month at the point of which the drinking water is being cleaned and prepared for consumption.
“They take them straight from the water plant. It comes out of the first half of the plant,” he said. “It’s basically the entry point into the distribution system.”
Some opponents of water fluoridation question its safety and effectiveness, but there has been little evidence to support these concerns, according to www.KidsHealth.org. The CDC reported that the past five surgeons general support community water fluoridation and encouraged communities to embrace the practice.
As parents may worry about their children experiencing dental fluorosis from receiving too much fluoride in the tap water, Linn said the fluoride, or hydrofluoric acid, is a diluted mix that’s added directly to the water during the treatment process.
“The easiest way I know how to explain it is parts per million. Say you have a million gallons of water and you take away one gallon from that million gallons. Then you add one gallon of hydrofluoric acid. That creates one part per million,” he said. “So, out of all that water, you’re only adding one gallon of this chemical.”
TPWA sells water to five area rural water districts or companies, and customers within these rural areas are drinking the same water as those customers living within the Tahlequah city limit boundaries. Briggs Rural Water District No. 8 Manager Brent Short said they perform testing at their site, and the water customers receive is the very same high-quality product that comes out any tap in Tahlequah.
“Even if we wanted to add anything [to the water], we do not have the means. We have nothing tied into our system for adding anything. It’s a totally sealed system and it should be that way just for security reasons,” he said. “Both Tahlequah Public Works and [Briggs RWD No. 8] comply with the EPA [and DEQ] and the basic regulations. We test every month. We’re required to test just like Tahlequah. Tahlequah does testing daily.”
The other rural water districts or companies that receive TPWA treated water include Welling/Rural Water District No. 7, Lost City/Rural Water District No. 11, Stick Ross Mountain Water Company, Grand View Water Company and Sequoyah Schools.
Briggs RWD No. 8 Assistant Manager Cody Howard said people concerned about their pets or livestock need to know the water is tested and treated for human consumption.
“The drinking water is not meant for animals,” he said. “We do the studies for human beings. If it has some kind of adverse effect with animals like horses – because horses drink a lot more water than humans -, there could be an effect or maybe their bodies act differently towards the fluoride. Then again, it wasn’t meant for horses.”