GRAND ISLAND — Tempers flared during a water issues forum Thursday at College Park when the discussion turned to the possible fluoridation of Grand Island’s water supply.
Grand Island voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to opt out of a new state law requiring the city’s drinking water supply to be fluoridated by June 1, 2010.
The author of the fluoridation bill, state Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney, moderated a panel discussion with area dentists including Steve Cain of Grand Island, Jessica Meeske of Hastings and Karen Sorensen of Kearney.
The Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto of LB245 on the last day of the 2008 session. LB245 requires cities of 1,000 or more people to fluoridate drinking water supplies to 1.0 parts per million by June 1, 2010, unless a citywide vote rejects fluoridation.
The Grand Island City Council voted to place the question on the general election ballot.
Tempers flared during a question-and-answer session with the panel when an audience member questioned why the panel didn’t include an opponent of fluoridation.
The audience member also asked the panel about the possible impact on kidney health from water fluoridation as the American Dental Association has indicated that fluoride is a concern to all kidney patients on dialysis.
Another audience member was concerned that fluoride was a chemical that shouldn’t be pushed on people and those who wanted to add fluoride to their water should do it voluntarily.
He cited an earlier speaker at the forum, Jason Vogel of the U.S. Geological Survey, who updated the audience about research being done on pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and other chemicals in the water system from both human and livestock use.
While evidence is inconclusive about the long-term impact of those chemicals on human health, Vogel said insects, fish and amphibians have been impacted by those chemicals.
The man from the audience used Vogel’s presentation to express his concern that fluoridation of the water was just another example of a chemical being added to the environment without knowing the possible long-term impact on the environment and human health.
Panel member Cain said Grand Island’s water supply already contains 0.68 part per million of fluoride and it would not take much fluoride to raise it to the minimum level of 1 part per million.
Another audience member wanted the panel to cite studies that showed that fluoridation of the water supply was not detrimental to human health.
Panel member Meeske said there have been 359 peer reviewed studies that showed fluoridation of the water system was not harmful.
Johnson, who chaired the Health and Human Services Committee, said another example of the safety of fluoride is that more than 200 million Americans have drank water with fluoride in it for years without ill-effect.
He also cited studies by the Centers for Disease Control that showed the fluoridation of water was more of a benefit to society than a problem.
Meeske, who is a pediatric dentist and practices in Hastings and Grand Island, said fluoridating water is a way to reduce dental disease in a community by 40 percent.
Another criticism voiced by the audience is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has never approved fluoridation chemicals.
Johnson said one of the reasons he introduced legislation to fluoridate drinking water was a concern he had about the rising cost of health care and how it’s limiting the amount of money available to lawmakers for other essential state programs.
Also, he said rising health insurance costs are preventing more Nebraskans access to affordable dental insurance.
Johnson said adding fluoride to drinking water was a cost-effective and proven way of promoting good dental health.
He said that for every $1 spent on fluoride, $38 is saved on treatment.
Seventy percent of Nebraska’s communities are already fluoridating water supplies.
Johnson also said poor dental health is one of the leading reasons why children miss school, such as having a toothache.
“We all love to complain how high our taxes are,” Johnson said. “This is a public measure that will do the most good and cost the least to taxpayers. When it comes to oral health for all people, particularly young people, this stands out as the best public health measure that you can do.”