Q: How much fluoride is there in Mankato’s water?
A: The city’s Public Utilities Department, like a student who made the Honor Roll, is happy to share its water testing results.
“Testing completed by the Minnesota Department of Health confirms that Mankato’s drinking water meets and exceeds all state and federal standards for high-quality water, including the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act,” the city’s website reports.
The water quality report, summarizing tests conducted in 2017, covers everything from well-known contaminants like arsenic and nitrates to more obscure things like “gross alpha” and “haloacetic acids.
Gross alpha, Ask Us Guy learned, is a test of overall radioactivity of drinking water. Haloacetic acids, which are a by-product of water disinfection using chlorine, can cause health problems at high levels if consumed over many years.
In any case, concentrations of those and all other contaminants in Mankato’s drinking water are just a fraction of the top level allowed by Environmental Protection Agency standards.
As for fluoride, it ranged from .6 to .72 parts per million in Mankato drinking water, well below the EPA limit of 4 parts per million. Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical in some water supplies, but it is added to water in more than 600 Minnesota communities where natural levels aren’t high enough to combat tooth decay.
While the reader didn’t offer any explanation for his or her specific interest in fluoride levels, there’s a long history of skepticism regarding fluoridation by some people in the United States and across the world.
For most skeptics, it’s just opposition to being forced to ingest a government-added chemical every time they take a drink of water. A much smaller percentage of opponents have stoked dark conspiracies that fluoridation is part of a government attempt to weaken brains — maybe even as a precursor to mind-control.
The suspicion goes back nearly 70 years to anti-communist organizations, and it was mocked in the movie “Dr. Strangelove.” In the movie, Air Force General Jack D. Ripper explains his motive for initiating a first-strike nuclear attack against the Soviet Union: “Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face?”
Gen. Ripper also asks in the 1964 film, “Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water? … Vodka, that’s what they drink, isn’t it? Never water?”
A much more common concern than Soviet mind-control was mottled teeth and brittle bones, and excessive amounts of fluoride can cause those problems.
Fluoride above 2 parts per million can lead to cosmetic issues with teeth, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. And consuming water with excessive amounts of fluoride over a lifetime can cause skeletal and joint problems, which is why the EPA set the maximum level for municipal water supplies.
By contrast, carefully-controlled amounts of fluoride in drinking water have proven benefits in promoting stronger teeth, with rates of childhood cavities plunging in communities that added fluoride to water supplies.
A good article on the history of fluoridation, “Pipe Dreams: America’s Fluoride Controversy,” was published by the Science History Institute in 2011.
The reader didn’t ask about lead in Mankato’s water. But since that’s been a hot issue since the widespread lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, Ask Us Guy is throwing in the results from Mankato’s 2017 test.
Lead levels are tested in various homes around the community, rather than at the drinking water plant, because lead contamination typically comes from water-service pipes. The EPA standards are a little bit complicated when it comes to lead, tossing out the 10 percent of households with the highest lead levels. The remaining 90 percent must have lead levels of less than 15 parts per billion. In Mankato, 90 percent of households tested had lead levels of just under 2 parts per billion…