ERIE — In a perfect world, Diane Brunson would have the fluoride flowing freely through every Colorado tap.
To Brunson, who heads the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Oral Health Unit, it’s an easy call. Statistics show sharp reductions in tooth decay in communities that fluoridate their water.
Studies show the costs — about $1 per person per year for a community the size of Erie, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are far outweighed by the savings in community dental bills. The CDC ranks fluoridation with immunization and heart health on its short list of public health achievements in the 20th century.
“We have (had) fluoridated water since 1945 in this country and seen no adverse health defects,” Brunson said. “It’s beneficial to everyone.”
Still, public outcry kept Erie trustees from fluoridating the water in 2001. On April 1, the trustees will let residents of the growing town decide whether they want fluoride in the town’s tap water.
“The board felt that it was time to let the people decide for themselves,” Erie Mayor Andrew Moore said.
Despite the urging of the state and the fact that 75 percent of Colorado communities fluoridate, detractors say the additive is at best unnecessary, at worst toxic.
While it’s widely accepted that fluoride protects tooth enamel, critics say fluoride in toothpaste makes it unnecessary to fluoridate water. Critics also point to studies that show that long-term fluoride consumption can leave teeth discolored and even pose health risks — high concentrations of fluoride were once used as rat poison.
“It’s bad for the kids,” said Pam Buckley, an Erie resident and 39-year-old mother of three. “They can take all of the impurities out they want, but I don’t care to have it in the water.”
Erie remains one of the last — and one of the largest — communities in Colorado to keep the local water supply fluoride-free. Locally, water customers in Longmont, Lafayette, Louisville, Dacono, Firestone, Frederick and the Left Hand Water District all receive fluoridated water.
“We were shocked (Erie) didn’t have fluoride in the water,” said Susan MacLeod, a former Evergreen resident who recently moved to Erie and plans to support the initiative on the April 1 ballot. “I’ve never even heard anything bad about it.”
The concerns have been raised in other Front Range communities. Boulder voters narrowly defeated a resolution to remove fluoride from their water in 2006.