CORTLAND – County health officials refuse to let an opportunity to fluoridate public drinking water go away without a fight.
City of Cortland officials were expected to receive a letter today or Monday from county Health Director Catherine Feuerherm, Seven Valleys Health Coalition Executive Director Jackie Leaf and county Environmental Health Director Michael Ryan offering to help complete a grant application for a $50,000 engineering study to outline what would be needed to install a fluoridation system.
“Dental disease is the most prevalent preventable disease in the world,” Feuerherm said. Yet one in three Cortland County adults have lost all permanent teeth, half of all third-graders have cavities – and half of those cavities are untreated. Public fluoridation cuts cavity by 50 percent.
The city declined Tuesday to pursue the application because, Mayor Brian Tobin said, it could not complete the form in time to make the deadline at the end of February. Feuerherm and Leaf said they made the city aware of the pending grant opportunity in June and the application itself in October.
“It’s not ringing a bell,” Tobin said Friday night. “To my recollection, the first real discussion was the Wednesday before last.”
He said later Friday night that his records show he exchanged emails about the issue with Feuerherm in May, but did not otherwise know of the application.
The city’s decision followed a meeting at which residents harangued city Common Council members over considering fluoridation.
The city last considered fluoridation in 2003, when it disbanded its water board rather than let the board fluoridate the water.
Still, Leaf said Seven Valleys has virtually all the information the city needs to complete the application, and her staff – as well as the county’s Environmental Health staff – will make that happen. It’s a simple application, Feuerherm said.
“How much assistance and technical expertise vs. actual writing?” Tobin asked, not committing to bring the issue back to council, “It’s an abbreviated timeline. What would be the time commitment?”
The grant would fund an engineering study that would determine how a fluoridation system could be installed. “The city would know exactly how much it would cost and what it would do,” Leafe said. What the city does with the information could be decided later.
The difficult part for Leaf was sitting in on Tuesday’s meeting and listening to what she described as mistakes, misinformation and half-truths that she couldn’t correct. And watching the normally reserved Feuerherm on Friday, speaking with her hands and in an elevated voice, she seemed bothered too.
“It’s a very simple application process,” she said. “A lot of misinformation was presented.”
Among the statements she, Leaf and Ryan addressed:
- That fluoride leads to learning disabilities in children. Bogus, they said. The study that claim was based on was of Chinese children in a region where naturally occurring fluoride levels far exceeded U.S. community fluoridation, and did not correct for elevated lead, cadmium and arsenic levels in the water.
- That fluoride is a byproduct of toxic waste or fertilizer. Also bogus. Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance drawn from phosphate rocks, Feuerherm said. Phosphates are also found in fertilizers and toxic wastes, but it’s a misnomer to say one comes from the other.
- Fluoride is a medication that requires a prescription. Half-truth, they said. While fluoride can be administered by prescription, it’s a natural element – not a drug – more like the chlorine the city adds to its water, the vitamin D added to milk, the iodine added to salt or magnesium added to any number of foods.
Further, they said, prescription fluoride is more expensive than public fluoridation, difficult for families without insurance or a high-deductible policy to afford. “The public includes more people than can afford dental visits,” Ryan added. “Health is not just for the wealthy.”
- Europe doesn’t fluoridate. Half-truth. Most European nations don’t fluoridate water, but 19 of them add fluoride to salt, and some add it to milk. Fluoridated water reaches 12 million Europeans, says the Wisconsin Dental Association; 70 million use fluoridated salt.
- Fluoride is imported from China, and contains metals including lead and cadmium. Not particularly relevant, even if it were accurate, Ryan said. Water systems in America test and treat for 156 compounds routinely, including metals. Contaminants are removed, as per standards and regulations from the National Sanitation Foundation, the American Waterworks association, the state Department of Health and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s a highly regulated process,” Ryan said.
“Fluoride ingested through water is still the most effective, efficient means of getting fluoride to people,” Feuerherm said. “Why do people cave to the fear factor? … Every economically thriving community is fluoridated.”
See response, The Poor Science of Fluoridation Promoters, by Paul Connett, Feb. 10, 2016