The fluoride debate traveled across the state line Monday night as the Texarkana, Texas, City Council heard comments on both sides of the issue.
The hearing followed other city business and did not start until 10:30 p.m. In spite of the time, the council chambers were relatively packed with citizens eager to speak on the issue.
City officials also decided to impose time limits on speakers, something they had not done during any of the dozen public hearings held earlier in the evening, allotting 15 minutes for a spokesman from each side, and then three minutes each to members of the public who wished to speak on the subject.
As done at the public hearing held on the Arkansas side during an Aug. 5 meeting of the Texarkana, Ark., Board of Directors, the public hearing began with a general technical report from Texarkana Water Utility Director Bill King.
“Texarkana is one of only two cities exceeding a population of 25,000 that hasn’t fluoridated the public water,” said King.
King also went through the initial startup costs of fluoridating the city’s water supply, adding that there would be state grant money available to finance it.
“However, it would be at least 18 to 24 months before we see any money … I don’t think either state, Texas or Arkansas, if they chose to apply now, would be able to apply in time for the current funding cycle,” said King.
Noreen Webber, a dentist from Tyler and an employee of the Texas Department of Health, spoke on behalf of the proponents.
Webber began by citing several figures regarding community fluoridation, stating that more than 162 million people ingest fluoride daily through fluoridated water.
“That’s 65.8 percent of the population that drink fluoridated water,” she said, adding that 46 out of the 50 largest cities in the United States have decided to fluoridate their water.
“Some of those major cities include Philadelphia, which fluoridated in 1964, Dallas in 1966, Little Rock in 1951 and Chicago in 1956,” said Randy Lee, who lives on Woodridge Drive, and is a proponent of fluoridation of the city water.
Dr. Belinda Hutchinson agreed.
“You can take any article and study and use it to prove the point that you want, but you can’t ignore the sheer numbers of those communities that have chosen to fluoridate,” said Hutchinson. “Nationwide cities are choosing to fluoridate-that should be enough evidence for us to do the same.”
Webber also added that more than 90 professional international and national organizations support fluoridation. One of those organizations, according to local pediatrician Alyson Denson, is the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists.
“In my practice, I consider it a a huge part of my job to follow the current guidelines and recommendations as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, and they recommend not only fluoride supplements for children ages 6 months and up, but they recommend fluoridation of the city water supply as well,” said Dr. Denson.
Opponents, however, argue that fluoride is a hazardous waste product and a drug that has to be federally regulated.
“What are you going to really be adding to the water?” Dr. David Kennedy asked the council during his 15-minute presentation.
Dr. Kennedy is a practicing dentist from San Diego who traveled to Texarkana to speak at the public hearings on behalf of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, of which he is a former president.
“We’re talking about putting an untreated, hazardous waste material of phosphate mines that contains lead, arsenic, aluminum and cadmium into the drinking water. Fluoride is a pesticide, it kills germs, and like a pesticide it can only be applied topically, not ingested,” said Kennedy. “You guys aren’t doctors yet. You’re going to prescribe a level of a chemical that if I did as a doctor, would probably be sued for malpractice.”
In research previously presented to the council, it has been indicated that TWU would increase the natural level of fluoride in the water from .14 ppm (parts per million) to 1.0 ppm. It has yet to be determined how the utility will control dosage.
“You can’t control dose when you put a chemical in the water,” said Dr. Kennedy.
Michael Purifoy, a resident of Nash, Texas, agreed.
“First of all, I want to say that I grew up with non-fluoridated water and both my wife and I and all of my children all have healthy teeth, whereas my brother who lives in Nacogdoches where they do have fluoridated water, his children’s mouths are lined with silver teeth,” he said. “I also work outside all day and drink lots of water, probably more than the average person, and I’m concerned about what I’ll be ingesting if you add fluoride to the water.”
Helen Asimos, a member of Citizens for Safe Water, agreed.
“I am very much opposed to dumping hazardous waste with fluoride in my drinking water,” she said. “Yes, fluoride does stop cavities, but what does it do to the rest of the body? The citizens of Texarkana have a right to vote on this very controversial issue, because you the council are considering doing something that will affect everybody.”
Both Purifoy and Asimos’ statements summed up two of the most controversial aspects of the fluoride debate: Will the chemical really have an impact on dental health or is it just a question of good dental hygiene? And, if the city decides to support community fluoridation, will they give the public a say?
Wake Village Mayor Mike Huddleston (who was not at Monday’s hearing) said he is disappointed that the City of Texarkana has not bothered to consult with any of the city governments of the surrounding seven member cities who draw water supplies from Texarkana Water Utilities.
“This is a request by citizens of Texarkana for due diligence,” said Dr. Kennedy, addressing the council. “I ask that you don’t get swayed by the proponents …. their method is to cite all the authorities and then deny the facts.
“Read the studies, do the math, examine the issue scientifically,” he said. “All of you are intelligent people. Ask intelligent questions and I assure you they (the other side) will be scrambling for answers.”