Fluoride Action Network

Aspen: Fluoridation of water back in the spotlight

Source: Aspen Daily News Online | Staff Writer
Posted on January 28th, 2011
Location: United States, Colorado

The controversial issue of fluoridating Aspen’s tap water may trickle back into public debate as two top health organizations within the federal government recommended earlier this month to drop levels of fluoride added to water.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Jan. 7 lowered their recommendations to 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. Before the new proposed recommendation, the agencies recommended 1.2 milligrams.

Per the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the City of Aspen includes 1.1 milligrams of fluoride for each liter of water.

In the winter, Aspen’s water, which comes from Castle and Maroon creeks, naturally contains 0.5 milligrams of fluoride. That means in the winter months, city water officials artificially add 0.6 milligrams of fluoride for each liter.

In the summer, 0.2 milligrams of fluoride naturally occur in the city’s water, so officials add 0.9 milligrams.

Charles Bailey, the city’s water treatment supervisor, explained that more dilution is happening in the summer and, therefore, there’s less naturally occurring fluoride.

The City of Aspen imports its fluoride from China, through a supplier in Denver, because it’s the lowest-cost alternative. Fluoride is considered hazardous material and is tested regularly by city officials to make sure arsenic and lead, to name but two possible ingredients, are below levels that are harmful to humans, Bailey said.

The City of Aspen spends between $10,000 and $15,000 annually to add fluoride to its water. About 10,000 pounds of fluoride is added to Aspen’s drinking water each year, Bailey said.

The fluoride is delivered from overseas in 50-pound bags, 30 pounds of which Bailey estimates is actually fluoride — the rest is material that binds it together.

Workers in the city’s treatment plant wear protective gear when testing and adding the material to the water because the dust particles, if inhaled, could cause a respiratory disease called silicosis.

In the Jan. 7 announcement, HHS and EPA officials said levels should be lowered because Americans have access to more sources of fluoride than when fluoridation was first introduced in the United States in the 1940s.

Those sources include mouthwash and toothpaste, as well as soda and processed foods.

While Bailey wouldn’t comment on whether he thinks the city should follow the feds’ recommendation, he did bring the idea of lowering fluoride levels to the Aspen City Council in 2008.

“Fluoride is everywhere and now they are saying that fluoride is everywhere,” Bailey said this week. “That’s what we said two years ago.”

After months of heated public debate, the council passed on removing fluoride from the city’s water system, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to change public policy. Fluoridation of water supplies is supported by many doctors, as well as the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association, as the substance is said to strengthen children’s’ teeth.

The idea of removing fluoride was floated to the council by the city’s environmental and public works departments based on concerns raised by some members of the public who believe the health risks associated with fluoride outweigh its health benefits.

Fluoride has been put in Aspen’s water for decades, and the majority of Aspen residents voted nearly 40 years ago to add the compound to the city’s supply.

When the feds’ proposed their new recommendation on Jan. 7, Bailey sent an e-mail to council members, suggesting the issue should be reviewed.

“Gentlemen, we import the highly toxic Sodium Fluorosilicate from China and add it continuously to our drinking water per federal recommendations and a 1973 Aspen citizen vote. You may also remember that we publicly visited this highly volatile topic a year or so ago,” Bailey wrote. “The medical community represented at the meeting related the dialog from concerned citizens on the possible health risks associated with fluoridation and subsequent possibility of ceasing of fluoridation altogether as misguided as handing over our ports of entry to Taliban oversight … As the City of Aspen drinking water operator in responsible charge, I feel it is in our citizens’, customers’ and guests’ public health best interests to review the emerging information.”

Bailey also contacted the city’s environmental health department, making those officials aware of the feds’ recommendation.

Lee Cassin, director of the city’s environmental health department, said she recognizes that there are several sources of fluoride, including natural waters.

But thus far, the issue hasn’t been a priority for her busy department, she said, adding it will likely be on the radar in the future.

“I would assume that we would have some analysis for council … but I don’t know the timing,” Cassin said.

City Councilman Torre said he has been advocating for elimination of artificial fluoride from Aspen’s drinking water for years and supports the recent recommendation.

“I’m glad to see the federal government is making a move in the right direction,” he said, adding he believes people get enough fluoride naturally and from other sources. But, he hasn’t been able to get a majority of support from his fellow councilmen to pursue a change.

Just last week, Torre requested a water report from city officials.

“If I’m going to talk about (water), I want to know what’s in it and what we do to it,” he said.

Bailey said he is bound by the wishes of the voters, the council and the CDPHE.

“They are our governing body for the health of people, places and things,” he said.