The Colorado Springs Utilities Board on Wednesday halted the $1.3 million water fluoridation program that was scheduled to begin next month.
After nearly a dozen people opposed to the plan showed up at the board’s meeting Wednesday, board members said they needed more information about the tooth-decay preventive chemical that was to be added to the city’s water supply.
The city’s Utilities Department planned to add more fluoride early next month to nearly two-thirds of the city’s water supply on the north and east sides of town.
Instead, the board on Wednesday gave Utilities 60 to 90 days to submit more information about the long-term health effects of hydrofluorosilicic acid, which, when broken down and treated, becomes fluoride.
Utilities needed the permission of the board to begin purchasing the chemical, which would cost $50,000 a year.
“How can we assure the public that this chemical is safe without further studies?” asked Richard Skorman, a utilities board member. “For years, we’ve been told about things that are safe when they’re not … and the public’s capacity for that sort of trust is not high anymore.”
But Phil Tollefson, the Utilities executive director, said he probably would not be able to provide the sort of new data that would affect the board’s opinion.
“In these rather technical subjects, my observation is that you get a battle of the experts going against another set of experts,” Tollefson said after the meeting. “So whatever we present, there’s going to be some sort of study that will refute it.”
The fluoridation plan was approved in March 2000 by the same board after a group of dentists nearly two years ago suggested there was a need for more fluoride to prevent tooth decay.
To date, the city has already spent $1.3 million on the fluoridation program to build the storage tanks, the chemical feed pumps and monitoring equipment.
When completed, the program would add 0.8 milligram to the McCullough and Pine Valley water treatment plants, bringing the level of fluoride to 1.0 milligram per liter of water – the amount recommended by the American Dental Association.
Fluoride does occur naturally in some of the water that is delivered to Springs’ residents. Fluoride, found in the Earth’s crust and abundantly in the rocks and soil on Pikes Peak, was discovered to be a tooth preservative in the early 1900s by Colorado Springs periodontist Frederick Sumner McKay.
This fluoridation program would add more fluoride to areas where it is lacking – in this case the sections of the city where the water comes from the Western slope instead of Pikes Peak.
Fluoride is added to water in 43 of the country’s 50 largest cities, including Denver.
But it’s not without critics. Some people – including some dentists and scientists – say fluoride causes cancer, bone deterioration and infertility, and too much, experts agree, can turn teeth brown.
During the public comments portion of Wednesday’s meeting, several protesters waved placards proclaiming, “Don’t Poison Our Water” and “It’s Not Fluoride.”
Linda Summers, a Colorado Springs resident, asked board members why the city felt it had to add fluoride to the water. She said people should watch what they eat to cut down on cavities.
“The people in this city should be given a choice on what they want in their water,” she said. “It shouldn’t be put there.”
Other opponents weren’t against adding fluoride to the water as much as they were against hydrofluorosilicic acid, which they claim is a health risk because the long-term effects are unknown and it contains levels of lead and arsenic.
They said no toxicology studies have been conducted on the health effects of the chemical.
But Lisa Barbato, a civil engineer for the city’s water resources department, said no toxicology studies have been conducted because there are no risks involved.
Once the chemical is broken down in the water treatment process, only a small percentage of it contains lead, she said.
– Tom Ragan covers the environment and may be reached at 476- 1661 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The fluoridation plan was approved in March 2000 by the Colorado Springs Utilities Board after a group of dentists nearly two years ago suggested there was a need for more fluoride to prevent tooth decay.