FOREST — Two months after the county stopped adding fluoride to a portion of its water supply, a local dentist and mother determined to bring it back is working to educate patients on the health implications.
As of Feb. 1, the Bedford Regional Water Authority ended its fluoridation process. Water fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply. Prior to Feb. 1, Bedford’s central water system was treated 0.70 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. The other two systems either were not fluoridated or treated with Lynchburg’s fluoridated water.
The Bedford Regional Water Authority said fluoridation was discontinued due to opposition. BRWA assistant director Nathan Carroll said people who approached BRWA staff at public events concerning fluoride are opposed to it.
“We do not receive an overwhelming amount of feedback for either position, but what we do receive is typically in opposition to fluoridation,” he said.
Since the notices went out with bills that indicated BRWA no longer would add fluoride at the Bedford Central Plant, Carroll said he has spoken with four people who called to express support for fluoridation.
“Not adding fluoride provides a choice to our customers as to whether to consume fluoride or not,” Carroll said.
“[Virginia Department of Health] grants are available if we should choose to change course and begin adding fluoride at the new plant,” Carroll said. “That is not to say that there is no cost to us, but the cost of fluoridation is not a driving factor. From an operational standpoint, the biggest concern is exposure of the operators to an additional chemical.”
Annie Libbey and her husband, Chris, who own Libbey Family Dentistry in Forest, now are making changes within their home. Annie Libbey is one of the four who spoke to Carroll in support of fluoridation.
“My children are very fortunate to have parents who are knowledgeable about this, and we’re certainly making sure to send them to school [in Lynchburg where fluoride is added to the water] with empty water bottles and tell them to fill up from a water fountain there because there’s no longer fluoride drinking water at home,” said Libbey, who lives in Forest.
According to BRWA communications coordinator Megan Aubrey, some 10,200 Bedford customers were notified of this change on their February and March billing statements.
Though it does cost money to add fluoride in Bedford County — $2,600 per year to be exact — Aubrey said that’s not why it was discontinued.
Bedford’s water system was fluoridated until February, and before that, a grant from the Virginia Department of Health paid for the supplies and testing equipment at that location.
“We stopped adding this to be consistent with how we treat water in the lakes, since the customers in Bedford now receive water from both sources,” she said.
There are three water systems run by the BRWA: in Forest, Bedford and at the lake.
According to Carroll, the plan was always to discontinue water fluoridation when the new pipeline from Smith Mountain Lake into the town of Bedford and Forest areas was complete because the other water systems in the county were not fluoridated.
“When the Smith Mountain Lake Central system is interconnected to the Bedford and Forest Central systems, the Authority plans to discontinue the practice of adding fluoride at the water treatment plants, as the Smith Mountain Central system does not have a system for adding fluoride,” November 2016 BRWA board minutes state.
Libbey said there is a lot of “misinformation” about the safety of fluoride. She said the efficacy of reducing decay is so well documented she has no concerns about the safety of fluoride when it’s at the level recommended.
After 70 years of research, many organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association say it reduces tooth decay and prevents cavities.
All seven BRWA board members — Carl Wells, Thomas Segroves, Walter Siehien, Cynthia Gunnoe, Robert Flynn, Elmer Hodge and Michael Moldenhauer — voted Jan. 17 to discontinue fluoridation in the Bedford water supply.
BRWA notified town and county officials of the change via email in December last year.
Board member Gunnoe made the motion to pass the resolution.
She said the change was to make all Bedford County water systems consistent.
She added some people were against fluoridation and had submitted information to BRWA expressing their concerns.
The Lynchburg Citizens For Safe Drinking Water, a group against water fluoridation, sent a document to BRWA listing the “risks to health” from fluoridation including bone cancer, brain damage, dental fluorosis, diabetes and kidney disease among others.
The document cites a 2006 report from the National Academy of Sciences.
The group did not respond to emails from The News & Advance seeking comment this week.
BRWA was unable to provide The News & Advance with the names of any opponents of water fluoridation who it said have expressed concerns to BRWA.
Aubrey said BRWA didn’t have any specific contacts for any opponents of water fluoridation.
“A lot of times, we talk to people at events in passing, and we do not exchange names and contact information,” she said.
Gunnoe said, “Some people feel [fluoridation] causes health issues.”
When asked if she agreed with these claims, Gunnoe said she had “not investigated the topic well enough.”
Gunnoe served on the Bedford Community Health Foundation, which works to identify and address community health needs, from 2000 to 2008. She served as the vice chairman for two years and the chairman for another two years.
“It can be put on your teeth at the dentist’s office, and you can get it in your toothpaste so it’s still available in different ways if people want it,” she said.
The Virginia Department of Health’s Board of Health promotes the use of community water fluoridation based on research it said consistently indicates fluoridation is a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay, said Tonya McRae Adiches, VDH dental health programs manager.
In the Virginia Board of Health’s 2008 Policy Statement Regarding Community Water Fluoridation, the board recommends all public water systems in Virginia be optimally fluoridated, as community water fluoridation is the most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay, and that state and local government officials move in the direction of providing this health benefit for those citizens in localities where community fluoridation is not already in place.
“The CDC has named community water fluoridation one of the top ten public health measures of the last century,” she said in an email. “Community water fluoridation is an equitable and cost-effective method for delivering fluoride to the community.”
VDH supports community water fluoridation with education and grants provided through its Dental Health Program and with technical expertise and regulatory oversight provided by the Office of Drinking Water, said Jeff Wells, field director with VDH’s Office of Drinking Water.
Lynchburg, along with the town of Fries, were the first localities to begin water fluoridation in Virginia in 1952, according to VDH.
The counties of Amherst, Nelson, Appomattox and Campbell all fluoridate their water systems. The town of Appomattox does not but does receive some fluoridated water from Campbell County.
Libbey said she is working harder than ever to educate her patients, especially those who are residents of Bedford County, through her company’s Facebook page.
“Research proves that fluoridation reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent,” one post reads.
On Monday, she said it’s a “quick and easy” way to incorporate something into the community water source that helps so many people.
“To me, it’s just a no brainer; it doesn’t make sense to not regulate that,” she said. “Knowing that your taxpayer money is going to something that is going to end up saving our community money in the long run is very important.”
Though counties and localities do routinely reach out to VDH for information and support of community fluoridation programs, Wells said the decision for fluoridation is made at the local level and is based mostly on community support.
“VDH encourages the customers of BRWA both in Bedford and Smith Mountain Lake who want to receive the benefits of community water fluoridation to please call or email BRWA and let them know,” he said.
Bedford County Water Systems
Construction of the new pipeline along Virginia 122 and U.S. 460 for the new lake plant and waterlines began in November 2015. The raw-water pipeline carries Bedford Regional Water Authority’s water intake in the High Point subdivision to the water-treatment plant at Smith Mountain Lake.
Prior to the pipeline project, all three of the county’s water systems — Forest, High Point and Smith Mountain Lake — were independent. The new pipeline from Moneta to Forest connects them all.
Water from the High Point Water Treatment Plant never has been fluoridated due to opposition from customers at the time the plant was planned in the late 1990s and increased monitoring requirements associated with fluoridation, BRWA assistant director Nathan Carroll said.
The Forest water system traditionally has received water purchased exclusively from Lynchburg, which does add fluoride. The amount of fluoride in that water will decrease as the new pipeline is connected in the next month or so, BRWA communication coordinator MeganAubrey said.
The High Point Plant will be decommissioned after the SML Water Treatment Plant is fully functional.
The new plant does not have a fluoridation system, Carroll said.