The City of Fond du Lac has reduced the level of fluoride added to its municipal drinking water following a recent health alert from the Centers for Disease Control.
Fluoride in the U.S. water supply should contain the lowest amount of the mineral recommended while the Environmental Protection Agency reviews the maximum level allowable, the Department of Health and Human Services said last week.
The change stems from rising rates of fluorosis, discoloration and damage of tooth enamel now found in more than one in three children.
Water Operations Manager Kathryn Scharf said Fond du Lac’s fluoride levels have already been lowered to what is soon to become the new recommended level of 0.7 parts per million, down from 1.1 ppm. Fluoride has been added to the city’s water since 1950.
“The city’s well water contains naturally occurring fluoride, about 0.2 ppms, and we made adjustments to our system after we were contacted by Fond du Lac County Heath Officer Diane Cappozzo,” Scharf said.
The fluoride issue has a long history in Fond du Lac that has included heated argument and passionate debate, but very little action.
Vicky Rabe-Harrison, a long-time vocal opponent of drinking water fluoridation, along with her late father, Rick Matthew, said she won’t be satisfied until the “poisonous chemical” is out of the water.
“It’s arsenic that’s added, not natural fluoride. It was only meant to be put on teeth, not ingested,” she said. “Read the back of a toothpaste tube. There’s a danger warning that says (to) call poison control if ingested.”
The City’s first major challenge to fluoridation came in 1994 when a local group filed a lawsuit to challenge the city’s authority to put the chemical in the water. The suit failed and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision upholding the city’s authority.
The fluoride challenge was revived in 2002 when the City Council decided against pursuing a referendum on the matter. Residents tried to force the issue with a petition. Although the petition had the required number of signatures, it was deemed invalid.
Later in 2002 and again in 2004 the subject of fluoridation was brought before the council, but no action was taken. In 2008, the City Council rejected a proposal calling for an advisory referendum on whether or not fluoride should be added to Fond du Lac’s water supply.
State Rep. Jeremy Theisfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, served on the City Council during the fluoride debate in 2008 and pushed for the advisory referendum.
“There certainly appears to be some benefit (for water fluoridation), but based on my research I believe that the best way to do this is topical application and not ingestion,” he said. “I also believe that the fluoridation of drinking water supplies is giving medical treatment without consent.
“I also requested it because I felt that the public was denied the referendum years ago when signatures were collected and then, having successfully collected the signatures, was denied through legal maneuvering. The referendum would have at least offered some semblance of consent of the population to the medical treatment of their water.”
Cappozzo said it is important that community fluoridation continues, especially for low-income populations that may not have access to good dental care. The Centers for Disease Control calls fluoridated water one of the 10 greatest public health advantages, along with vaccination, birth control and recognizing tobacco as a health hazard.
“The CDC is basically saying that because of other sources of fluoride most people have available to them, we don’t have to put as much fluoride in the drinking supply. It’s a good thing we are always monitoring the various recommendations for any additive,” she said.
The additive should be limited to 0.7 milligrams in each liter of drinking water, the low end of the government recommended fluoride levels of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams a liter since 1962, says the Department of Health and Human Services.
Parents shouldn’t avoid fluoridated water, which helps form strong teeth, or toothpaste with fluoride, local pediatrician Dr. Warren Post said. He believes the degree of fluorosis being seen is mild, and not a cause for alarm.
“Putting this all in perspective, the original levels were quite appropriate for the time,” he said. “Now fluoride can be found in many other products, so this is an acknowledgement that the world is changing and we need to adjust accordingly.”