SCHENECTADY — A California megalopolis’ decision to add fluoride to its water supply is having an impact on several Capital Region communities, including Schenectady, which is considering dropping the additive due to rising prices.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves approximately 18 million people in the San Diego and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, began fluoridating in October.
But the whopping 12,000 tons of fluoride the system uses annually depleted U.S. supplies of the chemical and created a nationwide shortage, according to a major U.S. supplier. As a result, communities such as Fort Worth, Texas, and Needham, Mass., suspended fluoridation.
Several Capital Region water districts have seen a modest increase in fluoride costs, and Schenectady’s bill nearly doubled.
“We have to evaluate whether the benefit is worth the expense,” said Carl Olsen, Schenectady’s commissioner of general services. “If it’s demonstrated that the cost is worth the advantage, then obviously we’ll continue.”
Schenectady’s water works serves about 62,000 people in the city, parts of Niskayuna and Rotterdam and the bill for its 50 tons of fluoride has jumped $20,000 to $45,000 in 2008.
Fluoride costs for Saratoga Springs, Troy and Guilderland have increased. Troy is spending $32,000 this year, about 17 percent higher than last year. Saratoga Springs spent $8,300 in 2007 and won’t put out another order for fluoride until May.
Albany doesn’t add the chemical to its water supply.
“It killed the whole stinkin’ country,” said Hal Turnbow, vice president of Thatcher Co., a Salt Lake City-based chemical distributor that supplies fluoride to Schenectady and other communities in New York state.
“We’ve gone from a long position where we couldn’t get rid of it fast enough, to now you can’t find the stuff,” Turnbow said.
Robert Muir, spokesman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said the district’s fluoride costs increased 75 percent in less than a year. The total price tag was $3.6 million.
“It’s a very volatile market,” Muir said. “We have experienced the cost increases along with the rest of the nation.” In New York, roughly 180 public water systems fluoridate, and about 660 communities buy water from systems that add fluoride.
But the use of fluoride is a controversial topic. The American Dental Association says fluoridation reduces cavities by 20 percent to 40 percent. But critics link fluoride to lower IQs, endocrine system problems, bone damage and fluorosis, a dental condition that causes white streaks and brown spots on teeth.
Fluoride is a byproduct of the manufacturing process of phosphate fertilizer. Much of the nation’s fertilizer comes from central Florida, said Tony Besthoff, owner of Faesy and Besthoff, a Connecticut chemical distributor that serves some New York communities.
Fluoride occurs naturally in phosphate rock that is found 25 to 40 feet below the ground in what was once ocean. The fluorine gas created during the fertilizer manufacturing process used to be burned in smokestacks and released into the air, Besthoff said.
When pollution laws were enacted, manufacturers began trapping the gas and converting it to fluoride.
“Making the product is energy intensive and delivering it is energy intensive,” Besthoff said.
But despite the rising costs, at least one official feels the purported benefits of fluoride outweigh the costs — at least so far.
William West, Guilderland’s water superintendent, budgeted $8,600 for fluoride, up from $6,500 last year.
“My personal opinion, is that 8,500 town of Guilderland residences are getting something that hasn’t been proven to be a health issue and is actually a benefit,” West said. “It equates to a dollar a year per a household, which is very economical for fluoride treatment.”
F. Crowley can be reached at 454-5348, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Fluoride use in the state
In New York, roughly 180 public water systems fluoridate, and about 660 communities buy water from systems that add fluoride.
Does the benefit of fluoride in the water supply outweigh the cost? Join the discussion at http://blogs.timesunion.com/readandreact/?p=319