WELLINGTON – Mention fluoride, and the topic is sure to bring out a passionate debate. The issue has been rekindled by a recent study on the possible risks of the stuff that’s supposed to be good for your teeth.
The county commission voted 4-3 recently to continue fluoridating county water for now, but a Wellington councilwoman is urging her city to re-examine the addition of fluoride to its water.
“If the county is re-examining it, perhaps we should, too,” council member Laurie Cohen said at the end of a meeting earlier this month.
Fluoridated water has been credited as being one of the major public health advances of the 20th century, significantly reducing tooth decay and cavities, especially among the poor.
But a study by the National Acadamies of Science and other studies have said that fluoride causes severe enamel fluorosis, which weakens teeth, and skeletal fluorosis, which damages bones. Some critics say fluoride has a role in causing cancer, neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, and thyroid problems.
The NAS study was released in March. While it focused on higher levels of fluoride than what municipal governments add to their water, County Administrator Bob Weisman told the commission the study raised enough concerns for him to recommend against continuing fluoridation.
However, Dr. Jean Malecki, head of the Palm Beach County Health Department, recommended the county continue with fluoridation.
The commission voted to continue fluoridating its water until there’s a response to the study from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, a response that might take years, Weisman said.
Throughout the western communities, there’s a hodgepodge of fluoridated, non-fluoridated and potentially fluoridated water sources. Wellington began adding fluoride to its drinking water in January 2002 after several months of debate. Palm Beach County, which provides water to unincorporated areas and Royal Palm Beach, began fluoridating 18 months ago.
But Royal Palm Beach residents won’t get the fluoridated water for now. It’s part of the agreement the village and county signed when Royal Palm Beach sold its water utility to the county earlier this year.
“It did come up in discussions,” Royal Palm Beach Village Manager David Farber said. “We don’t currently fluoridate. There’s a specific agreement that says the county will not fluoridate water that comes out of our plant. So, until such time as that plant’s closed and we get our water from some county regional plant, our residents won’t have it.”
But residents who hook into the new county water pipes rapidly being laid throughout The Acreage and other areas dependent on well water will have fluoride.
One Acreage resident, Alex Larsen, said she believes fluoride caused her father’s cancer because he worked on fluoride systems.
“If it’s a choice between cancer and a cavity, I’ll take the cavity,” she said. “I can have the cavity filled. I can’t fix the cancer. Read the side of a tube of toothpaste. It says, ‘If ingested, call poison control.””
Scientists and doctors disagree over whether toothpaste contains enough fluoride to provide the same public health benefit as an ingested source such as drinking water. They also disagree over the amount of fluoride that’s safe in drinking water and whether its build-up over time is safe.
While the NAS study examined the effects of ingesting between 4 milligrams per liter and 2 milligrams per liter, Palm Beach County’s water contains only .8 milligrams per liter. Wellington’s water contains .7 milligrams per liter.
Wellington Village Manager Charlie Lynn said he doesn’t think the NAS study is relevant to Wellington.
“We inject little bitty bits of fluoride. In some places, it occurs in much higher levels. That study really did not apply to what was happening in Wellington,” he said.