CUMBERLAND — In response to a recent question from a citizen on the current level of fluoride in Cumberland’s drinking water, Mayor Brian Grim said the amount of the chemical added to the city’s water supply has been reduced by half in recent years.
Speaking during the public input portion of the June 17 meeting of the mayor and City Council, Cumberland resident Dale Tabler-Smith, who opposes adding fluoride to the water, said she recently contacted Grim to access the fluoride level.
“Recently the mayor told me we have cut the amount of fluoride we add to the water in half. I ask that we would take it out of the water altogether since the amount we put in there is so miniscule it just seems like an added expense,” said Tabler-Smith.
Grim said the reduction in the fluoride level was done in 2011 after city officials received a recommendation from the Allegany County Health Department supporting a federal target range set between 1.2 milligrams and 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water.
“The city voluntarily reduced it. It was recommended from 1.2 parts per million to 0.7, but we reduced it to 0.6. We took it a step further,”said Grim.
The addition of fluoride to the drinking water has been a source of impassioned debate in Cumberland and other communities over the years.
Harry Goodman, director of the Office of Oral Health Prevention and Health Promotion Administration for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore clarified some of the issues in an email response to questions from the Times-News.
Goodman said the federal government recommends fluoride levels be set at the bottom of the range.
“It’s not a reduction per se, but rather the federal government settled on a target point of 0.7 milligrams per liter, which was in the former range of 0.7-1.2 milligrams per liter. This recommendation has still not been adapted to date since there still is an ongoing public comment period,” said Goodman.
He said the reason for the new target was that in 1962, based on scientific studies showing that fluoride reduces tooth decay, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended the 1.2 to 0.7 range. Scientists set the range by taking into account different levels of children’s fluid intake according to the average annual temperature in different regions of the United States. Over the past several decades, many factors, including the advent of air conditioning, have reduced geographical differences in water intake. After a review, the USPHS determined that the new recommended 0.7 optimal level of fluoride in drinking water provides enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay in children and adults.
Tabler-Smith said during the city council meeting that other communities, especially in Texas, had been removing fluoride from their water supplies. She cited potential health risks and the added costs involved as contributing reasons supporting fluoride removal.
“There is a great amount of savings when you don’t fluoridate the water since it costs from $3 to $6 per person per year,” said Tabler-Smith.
Goodman takes issue with fluoride removal and the opinion that it is an unnecessary cost.
“There have been no communities in Maryland who have removed supplemental fluoride from their water systems in over 30 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, and its latest statistics from 2012, 97.2 percent of Maryland residents on public water systems drink optimally fluoridated water,” said Goodman.
“For larger communities of more than 20,000 people, it costs about 50 cents per person to fluoridate the water. It is also cost-effective because every $1 invested in this preventive measure yields approximately $38 savings in dental treatment costs,” said Goodman.
Grim said any further action on fluoride would require discussion and a council vote. The mayor said he has information both pro and con on the topic and has not taken a public stance on it at this time.