After a months-long debate, including a lively public hearing, members of the North Baldwin Utilities board have voted to continue adding fluoride to the area’s water supply until the end of the year.
The board’s decision is the latest move after it voted in September to end the utility’s 26-year practice of adding the chemical compound.
Fluoride is added to drinking water, toothpaste and some other oral hygiene products to combat dental problems, and the move by water systems across the country to include it was celebrated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
Jason Padgett, director of the system that serves 6,900 households in Bay Minette, Stockton, Tensaw and other areas of north Baldwin, said the utility will continue its fluoride program until the end of the year while searching for research that either supports the benefits or proves that there are adverse health effects.
Following a strong public response when they voted to end the program, the board decided in December to continue adding fluoride until after a public hearing was held.
During that hearing, which took place Jan. 23, just three of the 20 people who addressed the board spoke out against supplementing the water with fluoride.
Padgett said the utility ran out of fluoride a few days after the hearing and did not order more at the time, based on the board’s previous agreement to continue the program only until the hearing.
Following the board’s most recent vote, a new shipment has been ordered and should arrive over the next few days, Padgett said. The water supply was never completely free of the supplement during those few weeks, he said.
“There was residual content still in the distribution, so it never went to zero,” he said.
Last week’s utility board vote included two chances for continuing fluoridation beyond Dec. 31.
First, the utility recently asked the American Dental Association to endorse the particular type of fluoride used by North Baldwin, Padgett said.
The utility uses hydrofluorosilicic acid, which Padgett described as an “industrial byproduct” and different from “pharmaceutical grade” fluoride. Hydrofluorosilicic acid is “what most water systems are putting in,” Padgett said.
The board’s vote also calls for an independent study of the effects of their fluoridation. If the ADA does not endorse the program, then the results of the study will be used to make the final decision.
Board member Mike Phillips, who is also a Bay Minette city councilman, initially voted to remove fluoride but has since supported the program, voting in favor of the latest measure.
“I’m real proud of the utilities board for compromising with us to allow us to put it back in for now,” Phillips said. “Hopefully, the information we get from other sources will be enough to keep it in there.”