Greenwood’s Commissioners of Public Works unanimously voted on Thursday to eliminate fluoride from its municipal water supply as a corrosion control measure.
The 3-0 vote came after a recommendation by CPW General Manager Jeff Meredith to take the step.
Meredith pointed to federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards requiring proper disinfection as the catalyst for his decision.
In August, CPW engineers surprised the commission when they revealed for the first time that fluoride had been pulled from the water distribution network since January as part of a state-sanctioned analysis of its corrosion control system.
“Extensive testing of our system has made it clear that to provide the best levels of disinfection and corrosion control, we must not inject fluoride,” Meredith said on Thursday. “Over several years, CPW has conducted multiple tests of the industry-standard corrosion control systems to establish the most effective system for our specific water source and the design of our water treatment plant.”
As of 2016, nearly 75% of the population received fluoridated water through local delivery systems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CPW water department director Danny Ware said in August officials notified regulators about their plan from the outset, and remain in contact with them as the chemical is phased out of Greenwood’s water supply.
The decision was made, he said, because fluoride — which is available today in toothpaste, mouthwash and processed foods at levels not imagined when the treatment began for municipal water supplies in the 1940s — interferes with CPW’s corrosion control system.
“We feel that the benefits of corrosion control far outweigh the benefits of fluoride. I think if this was still the 1940s, it might a different story, and it might have been a good idea when it was first enacted, but I think we’ve reached a point now that it’s the opposite effect, and if I’ve got to decide if I want to protect our consumers with corrosion control over fluoride, I’d choose corrosion control any day,” Ware said.
Overexposure to fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis, a cosmetic condition that changes the appearance of tooth enamel.
In the wake of CPW’s decision, several Greenwood dentists raised questions about the move and the agency’s lack of communication in the run-up to system testing.
“I do not know one dentist in Greenwood who does not believe in fluoridation. And let me tell you, I 100% believe if you do not fluoridate the water, you will see a significant increase in cavities in Greenwood – more than what we’re already seeing,” said Ernest McCallum, an orthodontist who’s practiced in the city for 25 years.
Greenwood resident Nan Smith said on Thursday she was upset that CPW didn’t seek public input before finalizing its decision.
“As a parent, I should have been given the option of getting fluoride supplements for my children while this test was going on,” Smith wrote in a letter to CPW commissioners, which she shared with the Index-Journal.
“I also think that someone within the water department has a personal agenda against fluoride because it was done in an underhanded way, without consulting any experts, and the reasons that are being given just don’t add up. One person (or a small group of people) should not have the right to make a unilateral decision that is detrimental to the health of the whole community. Please put fluoride back in the water,” she said.
State law doesn’t require public notice about the removal of fluoride from water supplies until a decision is made to permanently eliminate it.
CPW customers will receive a letter explaining the rationale, and commissioners on Thursday said they supported Meredith’s suggestion.
“I trust our staff on their recommendation that it’s necessary to implement the corrosion control system they have presented,” Commissioner Henry Watts said.
His colleague, Michael Monaghan, agreed.
“What we have is a choice between lead and fluoride. I visited our water plant, had extensive emails back and forth between the staff who presented a couple of papers to me that were very good,” he said. “I emphasized to the staff that we need to continue our research, continue our efforts to see if can improve our system so maybe at some point in the future we can put fluoride back in.”