Amy Bremer, a Columbia resident who also is a chemical engineer, thinks there’s something wrong with the city’s water.
In recent weeks, Bremer has been joining other local residents to petition the city of Columbia to stop its decades-old practice of adding fluoride to public drinking water, citing the possibility of adverse health effects.
Bremer is pregnant with her second child and said she feels an obligation to take the city to task for fluoridation. “If I wait for someone else to do it, nothing will get done,” she said. She brought the issue to light at the Columbia City Council’s Nov. 19 regular meeting and has been working in recent weeks to learn more about the issue and communicate with city staff.
City officials have taken a neutral stance and have said they would act on the council’s will as to whether fluoride will continue to be added to local drinking water. On Friday, city staff gave Bremer and reporters a tour of the city’s water treatment plant in the McBaine bottoms.
After Bremer’s presentation to the council, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked city staff to draft a report on the issue. The city’s Board of Health has been tapped to follow up on her research and provide a recommendation to the council.
Geni Alexander, a spokeswoman for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, said the department has not taken a stance on the issue at any time since 1999, when Stephanie Browning, director of the department, began working there.
Colin Malaker, a local dentist and chairman of the Board of Health, said the board would discuss the matter at its Jan. 10 meeting.
“I think the public deserves to know a credible and evidence-based answer,” Malaker said. He said he has doubts about the accuracy of some of the research Bremer presented, especially considering that fluoridation of public drinking water has been endorsed by an array of governmental and nongovernmental entities.
“It’s nonsense to think that the people doing research on this are being bought out or being funded by big business,” Malaker said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed water fluoridation as one of the 20th century’s most significant contributions to public health. The World Health Organization, the American Dental Association and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are among a long list of organizations that support the practice.
Bremer had said at the council meeting that the Academy of General Dentistry had advised against the use of fluoridated tap water for baby formula, but Lauren Henderson, a spokeswoman for the organization, said in an email that Bremer “misrepresented” the organization with the claim and said that the organization advises that children between 6 months and 16 years old should receive fluoride to prevent tooth decay and to help build strong teeth.
“The controlled addition of a fluoride compound to public water supplies is considered to be the most cost-effective way to prevent cavities and fight tooth decay,” Henderson said.
In fiscal year 2012, the city spent $47,000 to purchase fluorosilicic acid from The Mosaic Co., a Plymouth, Minn.-based agricultural products firm. The city’s water contains about 0.7 milligram per liter of fluoride, which is the level HHS recommends.
The city has been adding fluoride to its public drinking water since 1973, just after the city had begun to draw its drinking water from the McBaine plant. According to Tribune archives, then-City Manager Don Allard announced that fluoride would be added to the water to make up for the fact that the water being drawn from McBaine at the time had a far lower level of naturally occurring fluoride than what was being suggested by health officials.
City Clerk Sheela Amin said there are no records of the council taking action on the issue. Former Columbia Mayor Rodney Smith, who served as a council representative at that time, said he does not remember the news of fluoride being added to the city’s water to be “earth-shattering.” He said the council had minimal discussion on the issue and that members of the public did not come forward to oppose the practice.