The city’s parks, building, development and public service committee earlier this month made the recommendation to not make repairs to the equipment that fluoridates water in one of the city’s wells. Monday there was a 7-1 vote to approve the committee report, and subsequently accept the recommendation.
Alderman Dustin Bailey cast the sole dissenting vote, Bailey also made a motion to vote on the fluoridation issue separately from the entire committee report, but that motion was not seconded and failed.
Prior to the vote, Dr. Ben Conner, a dentist with McAuley Clinic, Washington, presented some information in favor of fluoride in drinking water.
In the ’70s Union, along with cities across the country, began adding fluoride to water at the request of the American Dental Association because fluoride in water helps prevent tooth decay.
“Dental decay is the most chronic disease for children between 2-5 years old,” said Conner. “It’s a major problem.”
He added that more than 18 percent of emergency room visits are due to dental issues, which Conner said the percentage would increase if children grow up without fluoride in their drinking water.
“Without a doubt there will be an increase,” he said
City Administrator Russell Rost asked Conner about fluorosis, which can cause discoloring of teeth and enamel not forming properly. It is caused by too much fluoride.
“Anything in overabundance is going to be poisonous,” Conner said.
He explained that some children do not receive proper dental care and some don’t ever brush their teeth. Drinking water is the only source for some people for fluoride.
“I just want to be an advocate for this population,” Conner said. “Children through the elderly are going to be affected.”
Bailey added that the addition of fluoride in drinking water has been labeled as a major achievement in public health.
“Why are we going backwards?” he asked.
About 67 percent of the drinking water in the country is fluorinated, according to Conner.
At the May committee meeting, City Engineer Jonathan Zimmermann said it would cost between $25,000 to $30,000 to fix broken equipment to add fluoride to water. It has not been in service for several months.
Conner added that he understands the cost burden of adding fluoride to water, but that not adding it can be more costly in the long run.
Alderman Vicki Jo Hooper said she did not vote to discontinue the use of fluoride just because of the cost of adding it to water.
She said that the safety of city employees and other factors played into her decision.
The additive also corrodes city infrastructure.
Zimmermann recommended the city stop adding fluoride, and added that Union, Sullivan and Pacific are the only municipalities in the county that add it to water.
“If it is that critical it seems like the feds would be involved,” said Mayor Mike Livengood.
When the equipment was working the city added fluoride to less than half of the city wells. It costs $12,000 per year to purchase the fluoride in addition to other costs related to adding it to the water supply.
“We could fluoridate but we have to look at the whole system,” said Rost If we want to do that it will need a lot more work.”