FAIRBANKS — The city’s fluoride task force is getting close to consensus on whether fluoride should keep going into the city’s water supply.
Most members of the six-person committee favor terminating the fluoridation of water, according to a meeting Tuesday.
“I think there are two reasonable options on the table. I probably could have gotten behind either one,” said Joan Braddock, professor emeritus of biology and the director of the University of Alaska Press. Braddock said the two options were to not add fluoride or to boost naturally occurring levels up to the federally recommended 0.7 parts per million.
“Several of us feel that there’s not that much difference between those recommendations,” Braddock said.
Four committee members wanted to stop using fluoride, while chairman Paul Reichardt supported the other option and Braddock was on the fence.
The task force was formed to advise the City Council on the benefits and risks of adding fluoride to the public water supply. It is comprised of six volunteers from the science and medical field.
Fairbanks has put fluoride into its water for five decades.
The issue has been brought before the City Council before — most recently in 2008 — and proved to be divisive.
Local water already has natural fluoride levels of .3 parts per million, Braddock said.
The utility had been upping those levels to 1 part per million, based on federal health recommendations and a city ordinance.
When the recommendation was modified last month, Golden Heart Utilities ratcheted down levels from 1 ppm to .7 ppm.
The biggest risk of too much fluoride is fluorosis, or splotchy teeth, according to the committee’s research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the condition has become unexpectedly common in children during the past couple decades. It is mainly a cosmetic issue.
“It can range from really mild to something that would be really obvious,” Braddock said. “I find myself looking at people’s teeth a lot more since I’ve been on the committee.”
Research showed that fluorosis would be most likely among infants who drink formula made with fluoridated water.
“Because that’s the only food consumption those babies have,” she said.
One thing that surprised her was how much the public’s exposure to fluoride had increased since standards had been set.
“There are other sources of fluoride that people get regularly from toothpaste and food products,” she said.
The committee is expected to present a report and recommendation to the City Council next month and would like to reach consensus first, members said.
During the past year, the task force has tried to cut through the vast body of research on fluoride to find the most qualified, relevant sources, including peer-reviewed articles and studies like a National Research Council report. It has also collected extensive public comment.
The City Council could handle the report in several ways — take no action, vote on an ordinance removing fluoride or ask voters to decide on the ballot, said Mayor Jerry Cleworth.
Cleworth said the report will reflect opinions of a broad range of experts who entered the process with an open mind.
“I was really pleased to get the body we got,” he said. “I don’t know what more we could do as far as research.”