A method once believed to make water cleaner will be done away with at Waterloo’s water treatment plant.
Once the utilities department’s current stock of fluoride runs out, then the city will cease to treat water with it. City officials say they don’t plan to order any more fluoride.
“We might as well just use it up because we paid for it. It’s just another chemical you have to get rid of. It’s only .7 parts per million so it’s probably not something you are going to notice anyway,” utilities superintendent Barry Sorenson said.
On the recommendation of the utilities commission, the city council voted on April 21 to discontinue using the fluoride.
The decision comes down to safety and cost, city officials said.
“One of the big reasons to not use it anymore is the DNR cut the regulations from 1.1 part per million to .07 part. So, they cut it down quite a bit,” Sorenson said. “It makes you worry a bit when they start realizing that you were given 1.1 part per million for the last 30 years and now they suddenly think that is too high.”
Fluoride and chlorine have to be separated because when they combine, they become volatile. If it is mixed together, it becomes a poisonous gas. Chlorine is another substance used by the department and its workers have to take special care to make sure the two stay separated.
The city has each of its wells maintained once every 10 years, and workers stagger each update by three years to not incur too much of a cost by doing all of the wells at once. With phasing out fluoride, workers will have less maintenance to do on the next round of well upgrades because of new standards on storing fluoride and chlorine because of their volatile nature together.
“If we had fluoride, we’d have to make an extra room (for each well) just to store the fluoride,” Sorenson said.
With the elimination of the use of fluoride and not having to build on additional rooms for each well, Sorenson estimated a $400,000 cost savings with the next round of well upgrades.
Safety is also a concern. Windows in the city’s well houses have been damaged because of the fluoride, Sorenson said, adding “that’s how corrosive it is.”
“In my opinion I personally think you shouldn’t be drinking it,” Sorenson said.
Fluoride has been used to treat water as a way to prevent tooth decay since 1945 when Grand Rapids, Michigan started using it. It became prevalent in the 1960s.
There has been a public debate over whether fluoride is beneficial or detrimental to health for several decades, including concern over fluoride causing cancer. Studies since the 1980s have not been able to find a link between fluoridation and cancer, according to the National Cancer Society.
However, according to the World Health Organization, an excess of fluoride consumption has been linked to calcification of tendons and ligaments, bone deformities and fluorosis, which is discoloration of teeth.
Eliminating the act of adding fluoride to the water will not mean there won’t be any fluoride in the water. Fluoride comes from fluorine, a mineral common in nature. The creation of fluoride naturally occurs in foods and in water. It is also added to dental products like toothpaste and mouthwash. However, the amount found in foods is not considered negative to one’s health and there is not enough fluoride in dental products to impact health either, according to the National Cancer Society.
“Our water will still have 0.2 parts per million in it already. So, you’re still going to have fluoride naturally in our water,” Sorenson said.