A group of concerned residents is working to have fluoride removed from the city’s water system.

Fluoride in public water supplies has long been touted as a way to prevent tooth decay. In recent years, some communities have discontinued the practice.

The recently formed Community Coalition in Cleveland is seeking to have Cleveland Utilities remove fluoride from CU water supplies.

Although Cleveland Utilities water has had fluoride added since 1952, the amount was decreased in 2011 to .7 milligrams per liter. This change was made following recommendations by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and the state of Tennessee that this was the “optimum level.”

Fluoridation of drinking water supplies is strongly encouraged by state and federal regulatory agencies and public health organizations,” Ken Webb, Cleveland Utilities president and CEO, said in a recently released statement.

Community Coalition founder Mike Shreve and others from the group have presented their concerns to the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.

“Fluoride is a carcinogenic toxin. It could be the reason that some in our community have contracted cancer,” Shreve said.

In information presented to CU, the coalition quoted the Union of Scientists and professionals at the Environmental Protection Agency as saying “fluoridation is an unreasonable risk.”

Webb said fluoridation is still supported by the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the American Dental Association.

Webb said at this point there are no plans to remove fluoride from the city’s water.

“Cleveland Utilities’ water is fluoridated in strict accordance with state and federal regulatory requirements and guidelines,” Webb said.

Whether or not fluoride is included in the water supply is a local decision.

In a 2013 water quality data report, the fluoride content of CU water ranged from .36 milligrams per liter to .71.

Webb said the fluoride levels of the water are measured on a daily basis and “the levels are reported to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.”

The Cleveland Coalition points to the various cities having discontinued adding fluoride to their water as evidence that it is an “outdated, unnecessary and dangerous relic from a 1950s public health culture that viewed mass distribution of chemicals very differently than scientists do today.”

The coalition points to thousands of health professionals who have spoken in opposition to water fluoridation since 2007 as further evidence.

Information from the CDC website states, “The weight of the peer-reviewed scientific evidence does not support an association between water fluoridation and any adverse health effect or systemic disorder, including an increased risk for cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis and bone fracture, immune disorders, low intelligence, renal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, or allergic reactions.”

The fluoride used in Cleveland’s water is sodium fluorosilicate. Shreve said this same chemical compound can be found in insecticides to kill cockroaches and rats.

“When you look at the science, there is no reason for it to be in our water system,” Shreve said. “I believe originally it was an ingenious plan to make money on something they (companies) would have had to get rid of.”

He referred to the compound as “toxic waste.”

The coalition also quoted Dr. William Hirzy, a former risk assessment scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency: “Fluoride is a broad-spectrum mutagen. It can cause genetic damage in both plant and animal cells.”

Shreve believes fluoridated water may have been a factor in his wife’s cancer diagnosis. She is now in remission.

“Cleveland Utilities will continue monitoring important public health effects research which affects water treatment, and will consider such information while following the guidance of our regulatory authorities and the AWWA in making decisions regarding the treatment of our water supply,” Webb said.

Webb said the American Water Works Association has recently announced it has some updated information on the topic.

“We have requested that material and will share it with you when we receive it,” Webb recently told the CU board.

Removing fluoride from the water is not as simple as the board voting to do so.

Cleveland Utilities buys water from the Hiwassee Utilities Commission and Eastside Utility District, both of which add fluoride to water.

Shreve said the coalition was committed to speaking to these entities as well.

Adding fluoride to the percentage of water the utility pumps from Waterville Springs would cost an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 a year.