Correction appended

Some Columbia residents have asked the city to stop adding fluoride to public drinking water, a decades-old practice dentists and governmental agencies support for its positive effects on dental health that has been a matter of longtime debate.

At the Columbia City Council’s Monday meeting, Columbia resident Amy Bremer gave a presentation about the dangers of fluoride ingestion, which can contribute to tooth discoloration known as dental fluorosis in children. She also noted that the Academy of General Dentistry recommended against using fluoridated tap water for baby formula and mentioned other possible concerns such as links to behavioral or cognitive issues.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked city staff to draft a report on the issue and to look into Bremer’s research.

“I think it’s important to take a second look at it,” Hoppe said in an interview.

For more than a decade, Hoppe has used bottled water that does not contain fluoride. She said she has read reports indicating fluoride might harm bone density. Hoppe said if the city chooses to stop purchasing fluoride, the money could be used to promote dental health instead.

Adding fluoride to public drinking water became common practice in the 1940s as a way to ward off tooth decay. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 73 percent of Americans who use community water systems have access to fluoridated water. The CDC still considers fluoridation to be one of the 20th century’s most significant contributions to public health.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends public drinking water contain no more than 0.7 milligram per liter of fluoride. According to a Columbia Water and Light Department report, Columbia’s water contained 0.69 milligram per liter of fluoride in 2011. Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said about 0.3 milligrams per liter is naturally occurring.

This year, the city council of Portland, Ore. — which had resisted joining other cities in fluoridation — voted to begin adding fluoride to the city’s water supply by 2014, a decision that has angered residents and prompted them to petition for a ballot initiative to halt the move.

In Missouri, St. Joseph’s city council voted 5-4 in September to continue fluoridating the city’s water. And this year, the city of Pevely, south of St. Louis, stopped fluoridating its public water, but its reason was budgetary, not out of health concerns. According to the Associated Press, Pevely’s decision to stop adding the fluoride might save the city $8,000 to $10,000 annually.

In fiscal year 2012, Columbia spent $47,000 to purchase fluorosilicic acid from The Mosaic Co., a Plymouth, Minn.-based agricultural products firm. Company spokesman Rob Litt said fluorosilicic acid is a byproduct of fertilizer production. The sale to Columbia represents a small fraction of Mosaic’s revenue, he said.

Columbia officials expressed indifference as to whether the city should continue to add fluoride and said the matter should be left to residents and the council. “We would like to stop spending the $50,000 a year,” City Manager Mike Matthes said.

Kacprowicz said Water and Light would have no objection to ending the practice. “Whether we put it in the water or not is really up to the community,” she said.

This page has been revised to make the following correction.


A Friday story incorrectly said Portland, Ore., has started fluoridating its water supply. Portland’s city council voted this year to begin adding fluoride by 2014.