Fluoride Action Network

Fluoridation delayed; water provider claims shortage of chemical

Source: The Milpita Post | September 15th, 2005 | By Ian Bauer

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission plans to reduce tooth decay for Milpitans and residents of other Bay Area cities by fluoridating their drinking water.

The fluoridation program was scheduled to start Monday. But it will be delayed for at least one month.

SFPUC, which provides most of the city’s residential water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, said the key ingredient of fluoride is unavailable.

“We got an e-mail from SFPUC saying that there’s a nationwide shortage of fluoride,” Milpitas Utility Engineer Darryl Wong said. “Because of that they’re looking to delay fluoridation to October or November.”

Andrew DeGraca, an SFPUC water quality bureau manager, said a major fluoride supply company went out of business or simply stopped providing the chemical.

He said competition and increased demand for fluoride by other agencies around the country also contributed to a shortage.

Specifically, the shortage relates to an apparent lack of hydrofluorsilicic acid an important ingredient used by many water suppliers, including SFPUC, to deliver fluoride into large water supplies.

Betsy Rhodes, a SFPUC spokesperson, said Milpitas will be among the last of the agency’s municipal customers to be flouridated.

Besides Milpitas, cities where fluoridation will begin this fall include Redwood City, Belmont, San Carlos, Atherton, Menlo Park, Woodside, San Mateo, East Palo Alto, Portola, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and parts of northern San Jose.

“This is the remaining 20 percent of our customers,” Rhodes said.

The SFPUC states that the agency typically supplements fluoride in drinking water to meet levels recommended by the California Department of Health Services.

According to DeGraca, those fluoride levels are 1 part per million, which could equate to 1 milligram of fluoride per liter of water.

The agency says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends this level of concentration.

Dentists commonly use fluoride as an anti-cavity treatment. Most often, the chemical is found in toothpaste.

However, higher, more concentrated doses of fluoride commonly sodium fluoride are used in rat poisons, insecticides and wood preservatives.

Over the past several years, many health experts, scientists, environmental groups, U.S. states and even foreign governments have rejected fluoridating public water supplies.

Melissa Hippard, director of the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter, which covers Santa Clara County, said her organization recognizes health risks associated with large-scale water fluoridation.

“There are valid concerns from people,” Hippard said, adding cancer, bone fractures and dental fluorosis (an abnormal spotting of teeth) have been connected to over exposure to fluoride.

“There is evidence, particularly for sensitive populations, like young children, seniors and those with diminished immune systems, that fluoridation is not good,” she said.

Hippard said the Sierra Club’s position on water fluoridation in communities was to advocate “self-determination” for people affected by the practice of fluoridation by agencies that supply drinking water.

“Communities should make informed choices,” Hippard said. “The (water) supplier should not make choices for the community.”

Others see fluoridated water as a benefit to communities, particularly those places with disadvantaged or low-income populations.

“We’ve just not seen the danger in using (fluoridation),” Santa Clara County Health Officer Marty Fenstersheib said. “Water fluoridation is a good choice for a community.”

He added fluoridated water is especially beneficial to those who don’t have access to dental care, suffer from plaque and other tooth-decaying acids.

Santa Clara Valley Water District, which mainly serves the industrial areas of the city and some residential areas in Milpitas, does not fluoridate its water.