At their meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, members of Village Council voted to discontinue the practice of putting fluoride in Yellow Springs water.
The vote was 3–1, with Lori Askeland, Judith Hempfling and Rick Walkey voting to discontinue adding fluoride to local water, Karen Wintrow dissenting and John Booth, who is out of the country, absent. A resolution on the fluoridation issue will be voted on at an upcoming meeting.
“We’re talking about a deliberate act of a governmental body that says you must take this, you must ingest this,” Askeland said of putting fluoride in Yellow Springs water. “We don’t do this with anything else, only fluoride. If this were the only way to get fluoride and there was absolutely no potential harm and if we needed to ingest it,” the situation would be different and she would support the practice, Askeland said.
Citing evidence that fluoride is most effective for dental health when applied topically rather than ingested, that ingesting the chemical can be harmful to infants or those with renal problems, and that there is a lack of solid research regarding the effects of ingesting fluoride on the body, Askeland stated, “For that reason, ethically, I fall on the side that we shouldn’t add it.”
Council began discussing the issue of fluoridating local water, a practice begun in the 1950s, about a year ago, when the Village Environmental Commission recommended that the Village discontinue the practice due to health concerns. The issue has been controversial, with those advocating the practice citing its positive effect on children’s dental health and those opposed citing the lack of research on fluoride’s effects on other parts of the body. Council sponsored a forum featuring experts from each perspective in November.
As a member of the Environmental Commission, Walkey stated that he had spent countless hours researching the issue, and ended up opposing the practice because he found no “hard evidence” linking ingesting fluoride with improved dental health. Rather, fluoride’s benefits on teeth come from topical applications.
“Most studies show no correlation between ingesting fluoride and a reduction in caries,” he said, stating that “because there is not a proven benefit” to adding fluoride, he opposes the practice.
Council members opposed to fluoride in Village water cited a recent statement by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department on Health and Human Services that recommends reducing the current amount of fluoride added to municipal water supplies. However, according to Wintrow, that statement was not a final recommendation, and she urged Council to table the issue until a final recommendation is made by the EPA.
Wintrow also cited concerns that economically disadvantaged children would suffer a decline in dental heath if fluoride were removed from local water. However, in response Askeland cited a British study that showed no difference in the incidence of caries between children of different economic classes when municipal water was no longer fluoridated.
“We would like fluoride to be this magic bullet, but it is not,” she said.
Four villagers spoke to urge Council to discontinue fluoridating local water, and two spoke to support fluoridation.
A retired physician, Charlie Peters stated that if public officials are making public health decisions, they should do so with clear direction from available research, and that the lack of research is troubling. He cited physicians’ guiding principle to “do no harm,” and stated that given the lack of evidence regarding fluoride’s possible harmful effects on the body, the practice should be discontinued. Peters also suggested that the Village initiate a 10-year study to analyze the effects of no longer fluoridating local water.
When the practice of fluoridating local water was introduced about 50 years ago, there were few other ways that Americans received fluoride in their diets, according to EC member Vickie Hennessy. However, most processed food products contain some fluoride, Hennessy said, so that Americans now receive far more fluoride than they know in their diets. Hennessy urged Council to discontinue the practice.
“Fluoridation is now everywhere,” she said.
However, water contains a low level of fluoride naturally and the amount added is minimal, according to Al Schlueter, who encouraged Council to continue fluoridation. Schlueter cited fluoride’s proven effect on children’s dental health as sufficient reason to continue, saying that “rich people can afford treatments” and topical means of applying fluoride, while poorer families cannot.
The link between fluoride use and “terrible diseases” seems an inappropriate scare tactic, said Edie Powers, who cited the good dental health of her children and others who grew up in Yellow Springs as evidence that fluoridation is beneficial and a reason to continue the fluoridation practice.