ASPEN — The City Council on Tuesday heard dissenting opinions from both professionals and community members as to whether Aspen should continue to add fluoride into its water supply.
Currently, the city of Aspen adds fluoride to the natural amount already in the water supply to achieve a level of 1 to 1.1 milligrams of fluoride per each liter of water. The debate was sparked by recent recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, federal agencies that want water districts to lower the amount of fluoride to .07 milligrams per liter.
The issue is complicated because fluoride has health benefits — but also risks. Some research claims that fluoride causes negative health effects such as weakened bones and an increased chance of bone fractures. Other research says exposure to fluoridated water during tooth formation can lower the risk of tooth decay in children, and it can have benefits for adults as well.
Council members said that they need more time to discuss three possible options the city’s Environmental Health Department outlined. One option is to maintain the status quo; another is to completely stop adding fluoride to the water; the third alternative would be to reduce the amount of fluoride it adds to water to reach the EPA-recommended .07 level.
The council asked environmental health director Lee Cassin if she could return with more information about the issue. Council members asked how difficult and expensive it would be for individuals to filter out the fluoride on their own; how much money the city would save to end the program (the annual cost was an estimated $22,000); and why water plants in Europe have ended fluoridation.
“I think we have insufficient information to answer the questions,” said Mayor Mick Ireland. “We are unable to do risk-benefit analysis in the traditional way we do it.”
Opponents of fluoridating the water say that they should be able to choose whether they drink it.
“One of the main things that I am concerned about in putting fluoride in the water is mass medication without consent,” Dr. Tom Lankering, a chiropractor in Basalt, told the council. “People should be able to have a choice about what they put into their bodies.”
Dr. David Swersky, a local dentist, told the council that he has seen the benefits in children’s teeth and recommended the .07-milligram level.
“I really see a strong point in the choice issue and why we shouldn’t be putting this in the water,” Swersky said. “But those who are less likely to be able to afford or give their kids and young adults the dental treatment are very likely the same people who are not able or knowledgeable to give this preventative treatment. … I believe it’s our responsibility to take care of these people.”
Ireland said he expects the debate to continue until the council makes a decision at a future meeting. But in the meantime, he wants to make sure he and council members gather as much information and public opinion as possible.