A letter explaining the South Blount Utility District’s decision not to fluoridate is not what the board asked for when it spent $2,400 on a study of the pros and cons of fluoridation earlier this year, one district customer complained Tuesday.
“This board approved an educational outreach, and two sentences about the pros and cons is not education,” Rex Ogle Jr. told the board at its monthly meeting. “And as a customer, I’m against you spending this money just to propagate your opinion.”
Board vice president Virginia Morton, who penned the letter based on a draft given to the board by McGill Associates last month, said she does not see where the letter is slanted.
“We wanted a one-page explanation,” she said. “We cannot do a book. The research is unlimited.”
The board approved the letter, which will be sent to customers later this month as an insert in the annual Water Quality Report.
The letter encourages customers to “provide us with your comments and questions” about fluoridation, but it does not include a survey.
District Manager Isom Lail told the board Tuesday that of 29 calls in April, 14 customers wanted fluoride in their water while 15 did not. That brings the total, he said, to 65 for fluoride and 125 against it.
But Ogle said the board is not counting the petitions he turned in earlier this year containing “300 plus” signatures of customers who want fluoride. The board has said in the past that they could not locate the petitions.
“Even with that 300, that’s not many (responses) out of 13,000 customers,” Morton said, adding she hopes the letter will solicit more opinions.
Dentists share studies
Despite those numbers, the board’s decision not to fluoridate its water when it opened its new plant in June 2004 continues to be the focus of board meetings.
Ogle gave board members copies of a letter from Robert Ramsey, a county commissioner and dentist who chairs the Blount County Board of Health. The letter outlines why the Board of Health is in favor of fluoridating the water and contains an offer to work with the district board “in notifying the public with regards to impacting the health of Blount County citizens.”
Board members made no comment about the letter.
Meanwhile, Lail told board members that he, Plant Manager Henry Durant and Gary McGill of McGill Associates met with two dentists, James Curtiss and Drew Osborn, at the district’s water plant last month.
Lail said the district agreed to look at how fluoride affects its water and, in return, the dentists would provide the district with a study on the pros of fluoride.
“It was a great meeting where we got a lot of ideas on the table,” Osborn said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It set a foundation for us to communicate about the (fluoridation) issue to resolve it in a positive manner, whatever the outcome may be.”
Osborn said he and Curtiss hope to give their information to Lail and Durant by the end of the week.
Planning a new study
In the meantime, Durant said he was in the process of getting the equipment necessary to study the effects fluoride would have on the district’s water. He added he hopes to start the study by the end of the week.
During the study, the prescribed rate of fluoride of 1 part per million will be injected into samples of “finished” water from the district’s plant, Durant explained. The fluoridated water will not go out into the system.
Tests will be run on the fluoridated water “every two weeks or so” for a couple of months to see if there are any changes, Durant said. He anticipated being able to report some information to the board at its July meeting.
“I’m not saying yes or no (to fluoride),” Durant told the board Tuesday. “All I can do is tell you about the water quality.”
Board President Robert Herron noted all water has some fluoride in it naturally, and Durant agreed.
“The more rain we have, the more fluoride (in the water),” he said. “It must be a pollutant in the air, and TVA doesn’t have any regulations on fluoride in its emissions.”
Durant added that the plant would have to make adjustments to the amount of fluoride they inject into the water so as not to exceed the “delicate range” allowed for fluoride. If the district board decided to add fluoride to the water permanently, Durant said he would have to order an analyzer to measure naturally occurring fluoride continuously to ensure the added fluoride did not exceed that range.
The board, which usually meets the first Tuesday of each month, will hold its next meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 2, instead. Meetings are held at the district’s office, 808 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville.