A plan to stop adding fluoride to water in the Downingtown Municipal Water Authority on April 15 has been put on hold after the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that the move will have to wait to face a public comment period and then state regulatory approval.
The sudden change in plans comes a couple of weeks after the local chapter of the Pennsylvania Dental Association, the Chester/Delaware County Dental Society said they had been caught by surprise at the March 9 notice that the Downingtown Municipal Water Authority planned to stop fluoridation of its water in mid-April.
The DMWA sent notice out earlier this month that it planned to end fluoridation on April 15, but that date has been put on hold by the DEP. The authority serves 3,621 customers mostly in Downingtown, but with a small number of users in Caln, West Caln, West Bradford and East Brandywine.
“The Downingtown Municipal Water Authority notified their customers of their intent to discontinue fluoride treatment and submitted their application to DEP on March 8, 2016,” said Virginia Cain, Community Relations Coordinator for the DEP’s Southeast Regional Office. “Notice of receipt of the application was published in the PA Bulletin for public comment on March 19th, 2016; comments will be received for 30 days.”
The local community will be allowed to comment, she said, and those comments will be part of the permit evaluation process.
“If anyone objects or has comments on this application, DEP will consider all comments and concerns with equal weight and consideration before making a final decision on the application,” Cain said. “(The) Downingtown Municipal Water Authority has been informed by DEP that their current fluoride treatment must continue until they receive a permit approval from the department.”
The managers of the water system said that the removal had been in the works for nearly two years and argued that the savings, some $40,000 yearly or about $12 per household, would allow the DMWA to modernize equipment, including water meters more quickly, while removing an additive most people now get through toothpaste and other daily substances.
“I think there were a number of different factors (in making the decision)” said DMWA Executive Director David L. Busch said. “One of them is the idea of putting things in the water that are not their naturally.” Busch noted the pride his authority takes in using clean water from the Brandywine Creek — some of the best water in the region.
The notice sent to local residents also suggested that there was a potential for adverse health effects from overexposure to fluoride.
“People use different amounts of water,” Busch said, noting that some might be overexposed unwittingly.
But local dentists — backed by data from the American Dental Association and the U.S. Centers For Disease Control — say fluoride is very safe at the levels being used, 7 parts per billion, and studies have shown an immediate and direct impact on the dental health of people, especially children, when fluoride is removed from water systems.
“Drinking fluoridated water keeps the teeth strong and reduces tooth decay, which is one of the most common chronic diseases in children,” said Dale Scanlon, President of the Chester/Delaware Dental Society. “Having fluoridated community water is one of the best means to help prevent tooth decay since it is a readily available source of fluoride.”
Busch, though, argues the DMWA is just following the path of many local water systems in dropping fluoride, seen as unneeded now.
“We are going toward the majority (of water systems), not the opposite,” he said.
The county’s dental community say they are frustrated by what they see as a penny-wise, pound foolish decision by the water authority. That has them questioning whether this is a public health decision, or as has been seen in recent months in Flint, Michigan, an ill-considered move by a public body to save money on a public water system.
Scanlon notes that not just dentists or the American Dental Association (ADA) advocate for water fluoridation, but numerous national and international health organizations.
“According to the Center for Disease Control, community water fluoridation is recommended by nearly all public health, medical, and dental organizations including, the American Academy of Pediatrics, US Public Health Service and World Health Organization, in addition to the ADA,” he said.
The dental health community is united in arguing for the overall benefit of water fluoridation — the ADA cites a very recent study done in Canada as immediate proof of the impact of removing fluoride from community water supplies. That study showed the immediate impact on a group of second grade students in two Canadian cities: Edmonton and Calgary. In Calgary, the water system stopped fluoridation, while Edmonton continued it.
Within two years, the study said, the average number of cavities in that group of some 5,000 students in Calgary was 3.8, while the number in Edmonton was 2.1, suggesting a direct and immediate impact on dental health from removing fluoride from the water supply.
The Centers for Disease Control is even stronger in its support of public water fluoridation:
“Fluoridation of community drinking water is a major factor in the decline of tooth decay in the United States,” according to the CDC’s Website. “Although other fluoride-containing products are available, water fluoridation remains the most equitable and cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all members of most communities. CDC has recognized community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
Still, others question the need for it in public water supplies, suggesting that modern toothpaste and other products supply more than enough. According to the notice sent out by the DMWA, the move was being made to reduce the exposure to fluoride as a public health concern and to save money.
Although many have claimed that fluoride and over exposure to it is hazardous, the CDC said that no correlation has ever been found, citing an independent 2013 report by the Community Preventive Task Force, that showed no negative health impact beyond white spots being formed on the teeth of some who were overexposed to fluoride. Additionally, fluoride is found naturally in the water of a number of southwest states — at about four times the level used in the DMWA system — without negative impact to the health of the people of that region.
Scanlon notes that even the DWMA’s Web site includes links highlighting the benefits of fluoridating water from drinktap.com http://www.drinktap.org/water-info/questions-about-water/fluoride-in-water.aspx).
With some time before a final decision is made, Scanlon suggests that residents who are concerned make their opinions known.
“Downingtown residents affected by the proposed action of the DMWA should plan to attend the DMWA’s public meetings and show their support for the fluoridating the community water supply as an essential public health measure which is necessary for the prevention of tooth decay,” he said.