The Austin Environmental Board posed a question at Wednesday’s meeting that a city report failed to answer: Does Austin’s water fluoridation practices pose a threat to the city’s public health?
Water fluoridation is the addition of fluoride to public water supplies to reduce tooth decay. A report on the practice was called into question at the meeting as a team gave a staff briefing to the board, and dozens of citizens spoke against the report findings.
“Citizens have been bamboozled into believing that water fluoridation is helpful to our teeth,” said Austin resident Linda Green. “Most of us live in flood plains or downstream where water accumulates. What is keeping minerals from going into my thyroid gland, my brain or my child’s brain?”
On a vote of 4-3, the board passed a resolution to ask City Council to appoint a new independent committee to conduct research and report its findings on fluoride and its effects on Austin’s drinking water.
Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, along with representatives from the Human and Health Services Department, Austin Water Utility and the Watershed Protection Development Review Department, assembled the water-fluoridation report.
The report found that water fluoridation does not pose a threat to public health, and that all of Austin’s fluoridation practices were within guidelines put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report stated that the estimated dental cost savings from fluoridated water was $18.62 per-person per-year for large communities. Fluoridation costs about 50 cents per-person per-year.
Remarks by board members, who expressed their concern that the staff-appointed report was not thorough enough and did not address certain questions that it set out to answer, drew applause and whistles.
“We requested that there be a study conducted by outside scientific experts who could give us clear information on fluoride,” said board chairwoman Mary Gay Maxwell. “To this moment, we have not received a response to our requests.”
Austin has been fluoridating its drinking water since 1973, after it was put to the vote in a 1971 election and binding referendum vote in 1972.
The CDC, which calls fluoridation one of the 10 greatest public health achievements in the U.S., says that the optimal fluoride levels are .7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. Austin averages .75 milligrams per liter.
Maxwell expressed “extreme displeasure” at the report.
“This makes me very disturbed, it’s very hard to be the chair of a board that’s been put in this position,” she said.
Questions also arose about the differences between topical and systemic fluoride, and what kinds of effects fluoride accumulation has on the environment.
Bill Kiel, a former councilman from Alamo Heights, was part of a movement that repealed the fluoridation of water for their city.
Kiel spoke in front of the board about the benefits of fluoride and the lack of information in the report.
“I was disappointed with how narrowly focused this report was,” he said. “It could have been given 20 years ago, literally. But there’s a lot of things and research that has been done that has happened since then.”
Neil Carman from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club handed out a list of 26 points that were not addressed by to the city’s report. The list claimed that hydrofluorosilicic is one of the deadliest chemicals used in Austin by the city, and that the fluoride chemical added to Austin water is not pharmaceutical grade.
“I’ve taught at the university level for many years, and this paper would not receive a passing grade in an undergraduate course,” Carman said. “Where are the peer review studies?”
The Environmental Board requested that the City Council supplement the water fluoridation report with scientific research.
It will take four City Council members to change or end the city’s fluoridation practices.