Fluoride levels in city drinking water will be lower starting in September as a result of action Monday by the committee that advises the city Health Department. The panel voted to recommend reducing the “target level” for the cavity-fighting chemical to a single standard of 0.7 parts per million from a range of 0.7 parts per million to 1.2 parts per million.
The new regulation is in line with a change in recommended fluoride concentrations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For years, the centers set the desired level at a range of values because it was believed people in cold climates drank less water than those in warm climates.
The federal agency changed the recommendation after research showed that there was no difference in water consumption, particularly among children, and that increased use of the chemical from toothpaste and other non-water sources was causing more cases of fluoride overexposure.
The committee had discussed lowering the fluoride level at a meeting May 27 but could not vote because only one voting member showed up, short of a quorum.
Research shows overwhelmingly that fluoridating drinking water has improved children’s dental health, but anti-fluoridation activists cite health concerns and individual liberty. Last year opponents contacted city councillor Nadeem Mazen and he successfully introduced a Council policy order asking the city manager to look into “the risks and benefits” of fluoridation. That led to a public forum in January where activists argued with a panel of pro-fluoridation experts.
After the meeting, the Health Department was to make a recommendation on fluoridation. Monday’s vote was the result.
The city has fluoridated its water since 1974, after three citywide votes seesawed on the issue and a state law then allowed the Health Department to act without a referendum. A Water Department official said at the forum that the fluoride level averages 1 part per million, the “target level.”
Water Department annual reports in 2011, 2012 and 2013 show fluoride levels ranging from a low of 0.8 parts per million to a high of 1.3 parts per million.
Health Department officials could not immediately say whether changing the allowed level would cost any extra money. They also could not say how “target level” would be defined, for example, as a daily or yearly average or some other statistic.
The decision will be reported to the city manager and the regulation will take effect in 90 days.