Melvin Pierce remembers the day when he got the call that his daughter, April, had been rushed to the hospital.
“She was at school and suddenly got extremely ill, throwing up and her skin getting red,” Pierce said.
Pierce said doctors determined the culprit was a fluoride treatment that April, now 14 years old, had received at school that day.
“She was violently allergic to it,” he said. “It was awful.”
Like father, like daughter it turns out. Pierce himself has the same ailment. He said that for years, he had to brush his teeth with baking soda to avoid fluoridated toothpaste.
“She got it from me, I guess,” he said. “I’m sorry she’s going to have to go through what I’ve gone through.”
April Pierce recovered, her father said. But he’s not happy with the city’s decision to begin fluoridating the city’s water supply.
“I can understand why they want to do it,” he said. “But this is just wrong for people like me and my daughter. They’re not giving us a choice, and now what are we supposed to do?”
The Joplin City Council voted to fluoridate the city’s water supply in September. After a failed attempt to force a referendum by fluoride opponents, the city is moving forward with the process that could lead to fluoridation sometime next year.
The council found fluoride was safe and effective, and would help promote better oral health among city residents. Fluoride opponents disagreed, saying they did not want to be forced to take the substance without their consent.
“In the end, the council decided to side with the greater good of the community,” said Dan Pekarek, director of Joplin’s health department.
‘Still planning to be done’
Regardless of which side was right, the fate of the handful of Joplin residents who are dangerously allergic to the substance remains a mystery.
“Am I going to have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for a filter system to protect my daughter?” Pierce asked. “That’s money I just don’t have. My other choice is what, just to move out of the city? That’s not right.”
Pekarek said the level of fluoride that will be added is so low that he doubts many people will be allergic to it in those amounts.
But for those who are, the city has yet to come up with a plan to deal with the situation.
“I can’t really answer that at this point, as we haven’t had those conversations with the city staff…or Missouri American,” said Joplin Mayor Phil Stinnett. “There is still planning to be done before anything happens.”
Stinnett said the situation facing residents like Pierce will be addressed before any final steps are taken.
“There’s no way that we would go ahead and put something into the system without No. 1, notice being given to all citizens, and No. 2, addressing those isolated number of individuals who may be adversely affected,” he said.
Pierce said he would like to see the city help subsidize the cost of a home filter that is capable of taking out the fluoride.
That’s a solution Stinnett said he was not prepared to endorse, at least until further study into the issue was conducted.
“I should be clear, at this time the city is not making any kind of promises to provide filter systems,” Stinnett said.
So-called “reverse osmosis” filter systems can remove fluoride — and everything else — from water. The systems can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the scope of the filtering needed.
Water bills are also an issue with reverse osmosis. According to ParentCenter magazine, the main disadvantage of such a system is that it “wastes two to four gallons of tap water for every gallon that gets filtered.”
City Manager Mark Rohr referred questions on the issue to Assistant City Manager Harold McCoy, saying he did not know enough about the issue yet.
McCoy said there was no reason for Pierce and those like him to panic.
“First of all, he doesn’t have anything to worry about because (fluoridation) is still a long way off,” McCoy said. “And second, we’re going to go do some research into what the alternatives are.”
McCoy said there was “plenty of time to address this issue,” as the city has not even heard back from Missouri American Water yet as to what the fluoridation process involves.
“We haven’t had any conversations with the water company yet about a timetable,” McCoy said. “We’re still months away.”
Ready to move forward
The city sent a letter to Missouri American last week, informing the water company that Joplin was ready to move forward with implementing fluoridation. McCoy said that if the company did not contact the city by next week, he would put in a phone call to get the process started.
McCoy said he was confident those with medical aversions to fluoride would be taken into consideration.
“I’m not that up to speed on what other alternatives there might be, but you can be sure we’ll look at it and give them a good response,” he said.
Pierce said he’ll be watching closely to see what happens, and said the city will be hearing more from him.
“I don’t usually like to complain about things, but this is something I felt I had to stand up against,” he said. “I’m just one person, but I’ve got a big mouth.”
Pierce said he has submitted his name to address the city council at their next meeting on Nov. 15.
“I hope they’ll be reasonable about this whole thing,” he said. “Water is an essential part of life. If this happens, I’d have to spend all of my money on water.”