A large crowd turned out for a discussion about adding fluoride to the city’s water supply at the Torrington City Council meeting Tuesday night.
According to Dr. Tim Pieper DDS, all the dentists in Torrington and a good portion of their staffs were in attendance to support the addition of fluoride.
“I really feel strongly that it’s time to implement this service for the city of Torrington,” Pieper said.
Pieper, who has met with the council previously to discuss the addition, recommended bringing the levels of fluoride up to 1 part per million. This amount, he said, is high enough for residents to benefit from it but low enough to prevent dental fluorosis. Fluorosis, which causes a yellowing of the teeth, can occur in children between 6 months and 5 years of age and is caused by overexposure to fluoride.
The greatest benefits of the recommended amount, according to Pieper, will be measured over time in the reduction of tooth decay among children, but benefits will be seen right away.
“Within the first year you’re going to see a difference,” Pieper said.
Pieper estimated that for most cities Torrington’s size, the additional equipment and installation could cost approximately $15,000, and the city may incur an annual additional cost of 50 cents per person for the additive itself.
Tom Troxel, head of the Torrington Water Department, put the cost a bit higher, at around 74 cents per person, and informed the council that because the water department is not currently set up to add the fluoride, the cost of equipment and installation may be higher. The city’s water system currently has no room for the extra equipment, no injection point for the fluoride and no monitoring system for the additive.
The fluoride additive can come in both a powder and a liquid form. According to Troxel, the liquid form is the easiest to handle.
Speaking in opposition to the addition of fluoride was Torrington resident Paul Puebla, a former member of the California Medical Board. Puebla distributed several studies, including a Harvard University study linking excess fluoridation to bone cancer, as well as a 2007 petition by 1,100 dentists, physicians, scientists and other academics urging the U.S. Congress to stop water fluoridation. Puebla also cited studies saying that fluoride can, in some cases, be harmful to older people suffering from kidney diseases or diabetes.
“I’m not here to say that fluoride will not benefit some people,” Puebla said. “What I’m here to say is that it’s not for everybody.”
Pieper disagreed, saying those studies were conducted at much higher fluoride levels than are recommended for human consumption.
“I think there’s been enough studies done to refute the more anecdotal studies,” Puebla said.
Puebla urged the council to do more research on what the current levels of fluoride are in the area, noting that some areas such as Huntley already have sufficient, naturally occurring levels.
“I’m not completely against it,” Puebla said. “There needs to be a wider look at it.”
Puebla recommended that dentists distribute fluoride as a supplement or in bottled water as needed, rather than adding it to the water supply.
“It’s a great benefit for kids, but for those of us who are elderly it is not,” Puebla said. “I don’t think it’s the government’s job to be our nanny.”
Councilman J.B. Hays also voiced his opposition to the addition.
“I really don’t think we should be adding anything to our water that’s not mandated by a higher government authority,” Hays said. “I’d prefer not to have fluoride in the water.”
Hays suggested a referendum and special election to let Torrington residents decide the issue, but noted that doing so might be expensive for the city. According to Mayor Leroy Schafer, a referendum may be one of the options considered if there are significant objections from the community to adding the fluoride.
Dr. Lance Griggs DDS pointed out that some houses in Torrington use reverse osmosis (RO) filters on their tap water. RO filters will extract the fluoride from the water, negating any benefit. Troxel estimates that 30 percent of Torrington residents, as well as some businesses such as Community Hospital, use RO filters. Dr. Eldon Richard DDS suggested that lower income individuals without RO filters and with limited access to dental care stand to gain the most from the addition of fluoride.
Councilman Randy Adams voted in favor of moving forward with the addition, but voiced a concern about making an investment from which 30 percent of the city’s residents wouldn’t benefit.
“That’s not a very cost effective way to do things,” Adams said.
Pieper said residents using RO filters might be in the income bracket where they could afford fluoride supplementation, or they could stop using the filters if the tap water was healthier.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of moving forward to budget for the addition unless the community objects.