GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Atlantic City’s award-winning water isn’t clean enough for Galloway Township resident Robert R. Reyers.
It’s not the water itself Reyers doesn’t like. After all, the city’s tap water earned honors last month in the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Awards, held in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and has won three gold medals in the competition since 1992.
Reyers doesn’t like the fluoride that’s added to Atlantic City water. And he doesn’t like the fact that Galloway Township’s tap water has been mingled with Atlantic City’s fluoridated water since February. Officials said Galloway’s water should be fluoride-free again by the end of March.
“I’m going to monitor the condition of the water,” Reyers said. “I’ll collect samples of water and take them to a testing lab and tell them to check it for fluoride. There’s a testing lab in Cape May Court House that will do that.”
Those who think fluoride is just a controversy-free cavity fighter might be a little confused by Reyers’ concern.
But the debate over fluoride — whether it should be considered a protector of children’s teeth or, in Reyers’ words, “a poison, a powerfully toxic chemical” — has existed since 1945, when Grand Rapids, Mich. became the first U.S. city to add the mineral.
Some opponents and conspiracy theorists feared fluoridation was an anti-American plot.
The 1963 film “Dr. Strangelove” poked fun at those fears with this line:
“Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?”
Today, people on both sides support their arguments by referring to science.
Fluoride proponents point to a study, commissioned by the British government and published last year in the British Medical Journal that found no evidence of harm from adding fluoride to drinking water.
The study analyzed 50 years of research into fluoridated water.
Fluoride opponents point out that the chemical is used as a pesticide and has been suspected of causing cancer, hip fractures, intellectual impairment, fertility problems, deformed fish and dental deformities.
Reyers, in a March 13 letter to Galloway Township Council, referred to “studies reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association and elsewhere” that connected some of the above problems with fluoridated water.
But Reyers also acknowledged that “the ADA (American Dental Association) maintains that fluoride is absolutely safe and ‘vital for strong decay-resistant teeth.’”
Dr. Craig Puchalsky, a Smithville dentist, said “we still see a higher incidence of tooth decay” in non-fluoridated communities.
Atlantic City began fluoridating its water in the 1950s, and took another look at fluoride some 30 years later, said Neil Goldfine, executive director of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority.
With the A.C. study in the 1980s, officials again determined that fluoride was necessary, he said.
Parts of Galloway, and other Atlantic County municipalities, get their water from New Jersey-American Water Company. Until February, that water had been fluoride-free.
In the mid-1990s, Atlantic County health officials and local dentists tried to convince those municipalities to ask for fluoridated water.
Some of the town governments, like Egg Harbor Township’s, passed resolutions saying they wanted fluoridated water.
Others, like Galloway’s, passed resolutions saying they didn’t.
Galloway Councilwoman Meg Worthington said the council found strong arguments on both sides.
“We decided that, if there was a question in the issue, it would be better to err on the side of prudence,” Worthington said.
Without unanimous support from New Jersey-American’s customers, the fluoride question was set aside.
Until February, when the company began supplementing its water supply with Atlantic City water.
Galloway’s water, and the water for New Jersey-American’s other Atlantic County customers, should be fluoride-free again on March 31, a company spokeswoman said.
The company will keep buying from Atlantic City, but will get purified water that has bypassed the fluoridation treatment.
At least, it had better do so.
Reyers will be waiting.
“All I want to do is get clean water again,” he said.