HIGHTSTOWN — After months of debate, the Board of Health seems poised to recommend that the borough stop adding fluoride to its water supply.
A draft recommendation to the Borough Council was introduced during Wednesday’s board meeting, with several members speaking out in favor of stopping the fluoridation of water until its potential benefits and dangers can be determined.
The draft resolution comes on the heels of a national study citing adverse health effects of fluoride when found in levels four times higher than those currently in Hightstown’s water supply.
“There is a possibility we might be poisoning people,” said alternate board member Dylan Ross, who wrote the recommendation. “And we have no way to know the benefits.”
The board decided not to vote on the recommendation Wednesday, as four members of the board were absent, including dentist Dr. John Laudenberger, who has spoken out in favor of fluoridation because of its potential benefits in preventing tooth decay.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for May 3.Weighing in Wednesday was Frances Pane of East Windsor, who has been on a one-woman crusade to get fluoride taken out of area drinking water. She has attended each of the board’s monthly meetings since October, when she first related her concerns that fluoridation could cause increased risk of cancer and many other health problems.
“We are being used as guinea pigs in an ongoing experiment,” she said Wednesday.
Ms. Pane cited a study released two weeks ago by the National Academy of Sciences, saying it gives more credence to her argument that fluoridation does pose a risk. The study found a greater incidence of tooth enamel fluorosis, a condition that causes discoloration and enamel loss, and increased risk of bone fracture in people living where the water supply had high levels of fluoride. The evidence is “mixed and tentative” regarding fluoride’s potential to cause cancer,
according to the study.
Borough Health Officer Robert Hary said the study is not applicable to Hightstown, where the levels of fluoride are kept at 1 part per million, which is the amount many municipalities add in an attempt to ward off tooth decay. The study focused on areas of the country where naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply was at or above 4 parts per million.
“I don’t think this study does anything for us,” said Mr. Hary, who supports continuing to add fluoride, in low levels, to Hightstown’s water. “Four times the amount is a big difference in my mind.”
But several board members pointed to other portions of the study that they found disturbing. The study states that infants and young children are exposed to three to four times as much fluoride as adults because of their smaller body size.
“I see a risk to babies who are bottle-fed fluoridated water,” said board member Katherine Zaiser. “I did it myself four years ago.”
The study also states some adverse effects in children exposed to fluoride in amounts as low as 2 parts per million.
“The window is narrowing,” Ms. Zaiser said. “How close do we get before we say ‘Why are we doing this?'”
Sandra Brown, an alternate on the board, agreed.
“Until we prove that this poses no danger whatsoever, we should not use it,” she said.
If the board does recommend stopping fluoridation, it should at the same time begin an initiative to support dental health, added board member Sarah Cluxen. She suggested that people be informed about other sources of fluoride, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, making them available free of charge for low-income residents.
But Mr. Hary said that may not be enough for some segments of the population who “aren’t getting much dental care.”
Mr. Ross said he supports a “better safe than sorry” approach, saying that fluoride can always be added once again if the board determines that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.
Mr. Hary said he had not talked with anyone from the Department of Public Works to determine how difficult it would be to eliminate fluoride from the water supply or to start up once again.
Larry Blake, director of Public Works, said Thursday that fluoride is fed into the water system by a pump which can easily be turned on and off.
Board members were given a letter from Eddy Bresnitz, state epidemiologist, stating he “supports a water purveyor’s decision to fluoridate their water supply when that supply has low levels of fluoride.”
Mr. Hary also compiled a list of Mercer County municipalities that do add fluoride to their water, including East and West Windsor, Trenton, Hamilton, Ewing, Lawrence, Princeton and Washington Township.