Janet Lail’s husband calls her a “water junkie.”
Of course, she is married to the district manager of the South Blount Utility District.
“My water cup is my constant companion,” she laughed, hoisting the yellow jug into the air. “The first thing I do in the morning is fix my water. I drink water all day.”
Drinking water is especially important to Janet Lail because she suffers from chronic pylonephritis, a kidney disease she was diagnosed with in 1978 and that has put her in the hospital every month for the past four years. That is, until last June.
Since then, her hospital visits have been fewer and further between. First she went 10 weeks without a hospital visit, then 14, then seven.
“I thought it was a fluke or something,” she acknowledged. “When you’ve been sick like that for so many years, you don’t want to analyze why (you’re doing better). I didn’t want to talk about it; I was afraid it might go away.”
But her husband, Isom Lail, and her doctors were wondering what was going on. They looked at her medications, her fluids … but nothing had changed.
Nothing, that is, except the water.
The South Blount Utility District, of which the Lails are customers, opened its new plant in June 2004 and started providing unfluoridated water. Isom Lail pointed out the change to his wife late last year, but she was reluctant to talk about it until now.
“I told Isom I am willing to show my medical records because I knew people would say I’m just saying that because I’m his wife,” she said Thursday.
After all, it was Isom Lail and Plant Manager Henry Durant who recommended the South Blount Utility District Board not fluoridate the water. Lail insists his wife’s health was not part of the equation, though, and she confirms that neither of them made the connection between the unfluoridated water and her improvement until many months after the decision was made.
“There’s no regulation requiring (fluoride), and one of our promises to our customers was to produce the cleanest, safest water with the least chemicals required,” Isom Lail explained.
Community and operator safety also was a factor, he added.
“As we did this, we looked at the pros and cons,” he said. “Just because everybody else does it this way doesn’t mean we’re going to. We’re going to investigate it first.”
Janet Lail, who described herself as a “massive reader,” helped her husband with the research in early 2004. She read a book called “The Fluoride Deception” and decided to read a book in support of fluoride as well.
She couldn’t find one, she said, and thought, “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Who knew?” she asked. “(Fluoride) was just something we’d always had.”
No benefit for adults
South Blount Utility District has come under fire for not fluoridating the water, but Isom Lail stands behind his recommendation to leave fluoride out. He noted that, according to the American Dental Association, fluoride is beneficial to teeth only for those between the ages of 4 and 14. After that, he said, it has no benefit, but has been linked to diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis.
“We’re not doctors; we’re water providers,” he said. “By not putting it in, we may not be doing any good to the kids, but we are definitely not doing any harm to any of our customers.”
Besides, Janet Lail added, “If it’s so good and necessary, why is it not one of the things you have to put in the water?”
Despite her own feelings, she said she expected “a raging debate” over fluoridation and has been surprised at how little controversy it has generated. In March, the South Blount Utility District received five phone calls from customers wanting fluoride and 13 from customers wanting the water to be left the way it is, Isom Lail said.
“Probably less than 1 percent of our customers have been involved,” he said. “The majority really don’t care.”
Counting the weeks
As South Blount Utility District awaits the results of a fluoride literature review being conducted by McGill Associates, the district manager’s wife continues counting the weeks until she has to go back to the hospital. Right now, she’s up to 10.
“Not having fluoride in the water has not reversed my condition,” she stressed. “I’m not going to get well, but I have stabilized.”
Isom Lail noted that at least one other kidney patient has reported an improvement in his health to the South Blount Utility District.
“We did not solicit this information; it was volunteered to us,” he added. “How many more out there are reaping the benefits?”
Cautious of getting people’s hopes up, Janet Lail said she considered going back to drinking fluoridated water to determine if that is really what has made the difference in her health, but her husband and her doctors told her not to. Instead, she said, her doctors will “have to look at that” the next time she is hospitalized.
In the meantime, she is enjoying getting up, getting dressed and generally “having a life.” But most of all, she is enjoying a reprieve from the pain she likens to rubbing a Brillo pad over scorched skin.
“It was the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep, and it woke me up every day for years,” Janet Lail remembered. “Everyday when I wake up, I ask, `Whose body is this that I’m living in right now?”’