The Arab City Council Monday directed the Arab Water Works board to immediately begin adding fluoride to the city’s water supply.
Exactly when it will happen is unknown.
The council ordered fluoride to be added “at the optimal level as recommended by the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, which is currently 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water.”
The measure passed on a near unanimous vote with Councilman Alan Miller abstaining. After hearing from the council and several dentists in the audience, Miller said that while he was for “whatever the people want” and respected Arab dentist Dr. John York and others who spoke in favor of adding fluoride to the water system, “I would like to hear the other side of the issue.”
The Arab Water Works Board agreed in July to discontinue adding fluoride to the local water effective Aug. 1, but the public became aware of it only after the Dental Director of the Alabama Department of Public Health contacted York.
York then spoke to the water board and the Arab City Council about the issue.
After public concern and questions from the city council, water board chairman Rodney Hyatt sent a letter to city officials and The Arab Tribune stating the board would reconsider its decision.
But last Tuesday, board members only agreed to compile a document to present to Mayor Bob Joslin and the city council defending their decision, which would include several topics and references for their information.
Joslin told the council Monday that he received a text Sunday from Hyatt stating they were in the process of compiling the information and would have it ready for their meeting November 9.
“We don’t meet on Nov. 9,” Joslin said, “but if they’ve really been studying this three years, I’d think they could have had something ready by now.”
York again spoke to the council Monday and said he attended last week’s water board meeting.
“We heard an anti-fluoride thesis,” he said. “There was no reconsideration at all.”
York stated that “it’s proven science that fluoride is safe and effective.”
York said he felt that the board members “had the best intentions” but had some bad information that had been taken out of context. Noting the board’s concern with fluorosis, which York said is caused only by high concentrations of fluoride, “in the range of 2 to 4 parts per million, not 0.7.”
“When they stated that 10 water boards in the state have discontinued adding fluoride since 2005, that sounded pretty impressive, until you call them,” said York, who added that nine of the 10 discontinued the practice due to finance or economic reasons.
“Only one voted it out for reasons we don’t know. You’ll be proud to know that Arab and Winfield are leading the way,” he said.
York added that in recent years, Madison, Russellville and North Baldwin Utilities all voted to continue adding fluoride to their water.
“Put everything I say aside,” said York, “the EPA is the governmental hierarchy on this.”
York said the EPA, CDC and the Surgeon General all recommend the current level to maintain cavity prevention and reduce the risk of dental fluorosis.
“The children is why we’re so upset about this,” said dentist Dr. John Watkins. “If you don’t get it (fluoride) to them systemically it will never form in that tooth to prevent tooth decay. Once that enamel is formed you can’t go back and change it.”
Dentist Dr. Scott Reynolds added that, “for some, it’s the only treatment they’ll get.”
“In a bad economy, fewer people are going to the dentist,” he said. “In about six years, you could see some harmful effects from this.”
Councilman Johnny Hart said he sent out about 50 e-mails to local residents about the issue.
“Ninety-five percent were in favor of (having) fluoride in the water,” he said.
But, he said, there were questions about the toxicity of fluoride and that there’s some information out there that it wreaks havoc on the thyroid.
York responded that he would refer back to the three government agencies.
“I have enough faith in the federal government that if something is going on we will know,” he said.
Hart said the felt the members of the water board “are good people,” but you have the EPA and the CDC making these recommendations, even the American Water Works Association supports fluoride in the water.”
“I don’t know who else to go to. I believe we need to put it back,” he said.
Councilman Brian Bishop said, “It’s disturbing that one other system pulled it. Why are we traveling down this path with Winfield?”
A Guntersville orthodontist attending the meeting said he couldn’t imagine not having fluoride in the water.
“It’s embarrassing really,” he said, “to take it out without asking is criminal.”
Councilman Chris McNeese said that although water works manager Ted Hyatt said money had nothing to do with it, “I thought it was money from day one.”
McNeese said he spoke with engineers at Huntsville Utilities who said it was costly and also complicated to inject it into the system.
Miller said he knew everyone was in a rush to make a decision, “but I don’t think one more week is too much to ask.”
“I’m concerned about acrimony being created, and I believe this could be resolved in a more civil way,” he said.
Miller said he realized there was “great passion” from those in favor of adding fluoride to the water, “but I like to hear both sides of any debate and I want to be well informed. I just feel I haven’t heard all the facts.”
Miller said he didn’t really have a dog in the fight one way or the other.
“I just wanted to be a voice of prudence in how we proceed, I was just going with my conscience and my convictions,” he said. “I wanted to call for some restraint in how we go forward.”
Hart said, “we’re elected, (the board) is appointed.”
“If there’s a problem, it eventually comes back to us,” he said. “They put us in a predicament to make a decision and we haven’t received anything from them.”
Joslin said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing, and they all want to know when the city is going to put the fluoride back in the water.
“I feel like they’ve been given adequate time to give us some information,” he said.
Joslin said he had already asked the council once to give the water board members a chance to present them with their reasons to remove the fluoride and reconsider their decision.
“Based on that, we have a resolution prepared if you want to consider it,” he said.
City Attorney Rodney Edmondson said he originally questioned why the water board came to the city council back in 1972 to get permission to add fluoride to the water if they already had that authority.
Based on their charter from the city and state law, Edmondson said, “I believe they have exceeded the scope of their authority.”
Edmondson said he made an open records request last Friday before the council meeting to review the board’s meeting minutes “and was denied.”
“They were busy and said it would take some time to gather that,” he said. “But once we can see it, maybe it will give us some insight.”
The resolution passed Monday also states that if the Arab Water Board “desires to remove the fluoride from the water supply system, any such removal request should be made to the Arab City Council, which will consider any request of such a drastic change in due time and, after public notice and consideration of all scientific data available.”
Bishop made the motion to approve the resolution and Hart seconded the motion.