CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — The debate over whether to fluoridate Joplin’s water supply flowed Tuesday into a neighboring town.
The Joplin City Council granted preliminary approval Monday night to a plan to fluoridate the city’s water supply. Carl Junction’s City Council followed Tuesday night and agreed to vote on an ordinance approving fluoride at its next meeting. The Webb City City Council, which also met Monday night, agreed to consider the issue next week.
More than 40 fluoridation supporters sporting “Operation: Smiles” stickers crowded into Carl Junction’s council chambers to advocate adding the chemical to the city’s water supply.
They said fluoride is safe, affordable, fair and ethical as a tool against tooth decay. No one at the meeting spoke in opposition to fluoridation, but those against the additive will be allowed to address the council at its Sept. 7 meeting.
“It is a community issue,” said Jack Udell, a Carl Junction resident who is director of the pharmacy at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, before the meeting. “Each community has to decide.”
Kathy Kowley, of Carl Junction, a mother of two children, said before the meeting that she agrees that fluoridation would be good for Carl Junction.
“I support it as a parent,” she said. “I try to provide fluoride for my children, but sometimes forget. This would make it easy to give children access to fluoride.”
Kowley said adding the chemical to water also would provide some preventive care for children without access to a dentist.
“Community water fluoridation is the most effective tool we have to prevent dental disease,” Dr. Tracy Godfrey, a family practitioner and Carl Junction resident, told the council.
Carl Junction Councilman Richard Zaccardelli said his children and himself showed no ill effects from growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, and drinking fluoridated water.
“And you did not end up a communist or anything like that,” added Mayor Pro Tem Mike Palmer, in a reference to a Red Scare-era belief that Soviet interests backed fluoridation efforts.
Zaccardelli and Palmer joined three other council members in voting for directing the city attorney to draft an ordinance under which fluoride would be added to the city’s water.
Councilmen Gary Stover and Mike Moss voted against the motion, and said the issue should be decided by voters. Stover offered a motion to place fluoridation on the April 2005 ballot. Moss was the lone councilman to back his proposal.
Palmer said any opponents will be heard at the next meeting.
Fluoridation supporters say adding the chemical to existing water-treatment methods is cheap.
Christie Hunt, communications manager for Missouri-American Water Co., said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the company estimates it would cost $3.66 per customer per year to fluoridate Joplin’s water.
Joe Barfield, Carl Junction city administrator, estimated it would cost Carl Junction $20,000 to install fluoride pumps at the city’s eight operating wells. Grants may be available to pay for the work, Barfield said. The chemicals, he said, would cost less than $1 a year per resident.
Carthage has fluoridated its water supply for nearly 50 years. Bob Williams, general manager of Carthage Water & Electric Plant, said the cost for adding fluoride is “fairly insignificant.”
Tap-mounted water filters available at hardware and discount stores would not help customers eliminate fluoride from their drinking water, said Karen Conrad, a water quality specialist for Missouri-American, in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Marketers of some commercially available filters claim they remove excess fluoride, and they may indeed reduce the levels, but Conrad said they will not remove all of the chemical.
Conrad cautioned that in-home treatment devices must be maintained or they may harbor bacteria.
“If they can find filters that remove (fluoride), they will have to replace them no less than monthly, I would suspect, and there will be maintenance costs to any removal system,” Conrad said.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends reverse osmosis filtration, Conrad said, but the systems are larger and more expensive than the point-of-use devices.
Missouri-American, Hunt said, isn’t taking a stand on the issue.
“Our company will do what the citizens of the community want,” Hunt said. “We are taking an approach to wait and see what happens.”
Joplin is one of a few cities the company serves that don’t add fluoride to their water, she said.
A group called Operation: Smiles has been building grass-roots support for fluoridating Joplin’s water. The group, made up of dentists, pharmacists and others in the medical field, has the support of the Joplin Health Department and both Joplin hospitals.