Tucked inside the Cripple Creek Public Water System’s recent annual report was an alert to the public about city drinking water.
“IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR DRINKING WATER – Elevated Fluoride Levels Detected,” read the June 1 report.
Fluoride levels in city water far exceed allowable amounts as recommended by the state Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the report said.
Further, it warned that children, ages nine years old and younger, “should be provided with alternative sources of drinking water or water that has been treated to remove the fluoride to avoid the possibility of staining and pitting of their permanent teeth.”
The warning urged parents to “contact your dentist about proper use by children of fluoride-containing products.”
The elevated fluoride levels area in contrast to revised federal recommendations issued in April lowering the standards considered safe for fluoride in public water from 0.9 milligrams per liter (mg/L) to 0.7 mg/L.
So just how high was the fluoride in Cripple Creek water?
“Throughout the year our (fluoride) levels vary between 2.1 and 2.5,” said Cripple Creek Water and Waste Water Director Mickey Groves, adding that years of below-average rainfall caused fluoride levels to spike.
“With the drought relieving, we hope that (the fluoride level) is lowered,” Groves said, suggesting our rainy summer will reduce the high concentration of fluoride.
From Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2014, the fluoride concentration average was measured at 2.5 mg/L, well above the .7 mg/L state and federal standard and even exceeding the level of 2.0 mg/L deemed to threaten the teeth of children nine years old and younger, the report said.
Children who drink water containing more than 2.0 mg/L of fluoride may develop “cosmetic discoloration of their permanent teeth” called dental fluorosis.
“Dental fluorosis in its moderate or severe forms may result in a brown staining and or pitting of the permanent teeth. This problem occurs only in developing teeth, before they erupt from the gums,” states the report.
The report also states that “older children and adults may safely drink the water” and “at low levels, fluoride can help prevent cavities.”
However, the report cautions that: “Drinking water containing more than 4.0 mg/L of fluoride can increase your risk of developing bone disease.”
Groves said anything under 2.0 mg/L is acceptable, noting the city does not add fluoride to its water.
“It naturally occurs in the Pikes Peak region,” Groves said.
Fluoride-rich minerals in the area soil and rock dissolve and are carried into the city’s water supply: two reservoirs, Beaver Creek 1 and 2, and three wells.
Groves said that if Cripple Creek’s fluoride levels were ever to exceed 4.0 mg/L, the city would have to purchase a reverse osmosis system to remove the mineral. But the systems are expensive to install and operate because they are energy-intensive and use a lot of water.
Since the 1940s, when fluoride began commonly added to public drinking supplies, a debate has raged in the U.S. over fluoride, which is valued by many for preventing tooth decay and contributing to healthy bones, proponents say. Many U.S. cities add fluoride to public drinking supplies to achieve those benefits.
Public health officials cite studies such as one in Texas that said the state saved $24 per child, per year in Medicaid expenses in cavity prevention thanks to fluoridated water. Another, in Colorado, showed the state saved about $149 million by avoiding treatment, or an average $61 per person.
But opponents point to other scientific studies they say prove the “increasingly out-of-control exposures to fluoride, the lack of benefit to dental health from ingestion of fluoride and the hazards to human health” from ingesting the mineral.
“These hazards include acute toxic hazard, such as to people with impaired kidney function, as well as chronic toxic hazards of gene mutations, cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, bone pathology and dental fluorosis,” one report warns.
Two scientists, Philippe Grandjean and Anna Choi performed a Harvard University study raising questions with regards to the neurotoxic effects of fluoride and associated lower IQs.
They concluded that test results “support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment.”
On his website (ChemicalBrainDrain) Grandjean states: “Their lifetime exposures to fluoride from drinking water covered the full range allowed in the U.S. Among the findings, children with fluoride-induced mottling of their teeth – even the mildest forms that appears as whitish specks on the enamel – showed lower performance on some neuropsychological tests.
“This observation runs contrary to popular wisdom that the enamel effects represent a cosmetic problem only and not a sign of toxicity. At least one of five American children has some degree of mottling of their teeth.”
In a letter published in the American Journal of Public Health, Grandjean states:
“We are therefore concerned that the safety of elevated fluoride exposure is being exaggerated in ways similar to those employed by vested interests to misconstrue the scientific evidence of other neurotoxicants, such as lead, mercury, and certain pesticides. Firm dismissal of fluoride as a potential neurotoxic hazard would seem premature.”
But Cripple Creek isn’t alone in elevated fluoride levels in its drinking water. According to Woodland Park Water treatment facility supervisor Larry Watters, fluoride naturally occurs in their water source region as well, with an average fluoride level measured at 1.3 mg/L. Woodland Park gets its water from three surface water reservoirs and from wells.
Denver Water officials said they’ve been targeting a fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter since that level was first proposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011. They do not expect water treatment techniques to change significantly.
On Aug. 26, Denver Water Commissioner Greg Austin issued a news release declaring the fluoride in the city’s water supply safe.
“After careful consideration of the information put forth by both sides of the fluoridation debate,” Austin said, “I am convinced that the community water fluoridation level recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service provides substantial health benefits and is a safe, cost-effective and common sense contribution to the health of the public.”
Travis Thompson, Denver Water assistant communication director said Denver Water sources include the Eleven Mile Reservoir, located at the southeastern corner of Park County, which is higher in fluoride content than some of their other water sources.
In response to the lowered fluoride standards announced in April, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Gov. John Hickenlooper reaffirmed the state’s position that all Colorado communities should fluoridate their public water supplies.
But in a sign of continued opposition, the Snowmass water and sanitation board of directors voted 3-1 to [s]top fluoridating its drinking water, according to a July 20 story in the Aspen Times.
See 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report for Calendar Year 2014 and warning concerning high fluoride levels in Cripple Creek.