The Hastings City Council unanimously gave support of a legislative bill that would require communities to fluoridate the water supply.
During Monday’s meeting, the council passed a resolution to support LB245, a legislative bill that would require communities with more than 1,000 people to fluoridate their water supply.
With LB245 the priority bill of Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney, the city is seriously considering the future of fluoride and the city’s water supply.
“I support the resolution. I think it’s kind of a no-brainer and we’re behind the curve on this,” said council member John Harrington.
“I would support 245 and even if 245 doesn’t pass, we can’t lose site of the issue,” he said.
The city of Hastings last considered adding fluoride into the water in 1974 when residents soundly defeated a measure to add fluoride to the water supply.
With that in mind council member Everett Goebel asked if the city could have another election on the issue if LB245 did not pass.
City attorney Bob Sullivan said that as he understands it the 1974 decision still stands. He also said he didn’t think the city council could approve fluoridation by ordinance either but he would check prior to the next meeting.
In addition to supporting the legislative bill, the council’s resolution also directed the Hastings Utilities Board of Public Works to present the council with the cost estimates and methods to enact a fluoridation program for the city of Hastings.
This addition came at the request of council member Phil Odom who said the council has a lot of issues to address before fluoridation can really be considered, including the pending creation of a city water treatment plant.
HU officials have said the city will have a water treatment plant, to put chlorine into the city’s water supply, within the next 10 years.
However, HU manager Marv Schultes said he doesn’t know exactly when the plant will built. He estimates that with planning and construction it could take three to five years to have a plant built.
The group of around 15 dentists, orthodontists and public health officials who spoke out in favor of fluoridation during Monday’s meeting said they would be willing to wait three to five years for a plant to be built for fluoride to be added to the city’s water.
However, Hastings pediatric dentist Jessica Meeske said the group doesn’t want to have to wait another 10 to 15 years.
Meeske, who served as leader of the group of supporters, said fluoride is such a benefit to everyone’s teeth and that it is a naturally occurring mineral in the earth.
She said the concern in Hastings is that the city’s water only has .3 parts per million of fluoride compared to the recommended one part per million.
“We understand that there are cost implications but we realize that this is a benefit for the people of our community,” said Jessica Meeske, a pediatric dentist and leader of the group.
Hastings orthodontist John Pershing presented numbers based on information from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services about the cost of fluoridation for the city of Hastings.
If the city fluoridated each of its 27 wells, the state determined that the capital investment would be $135,000, with $13,500 each year for operation and maintenance. The annual fluoride cost would be about $36,000 bringing the annual total to about $2.05 per person in the city.
HU estimates on the cost of fluoridation created in 2002 showed that the capital costs to install the equipment would be $750,000 and the annual operation and maintenance costs would be $100,000.
Odom said these cost issues and implementation of a fluoridation program all need to be addressed by the HU board before the council can properly consider moving forward with a fluoridation program.
In all, about 6 supporters spoke out in favor of fluoridation, before four others spoke out against the measure.
“Please put this to a vote of the people because I think people have a right to choose what they drink in their water,” said Bob Samuelson, of 505 W. Lochland Road.
He sited a number of statistics saying that fluoride can be harmful to people and that it is not recommended for babies.
“If it’s not real safe for babies, it’s probably not real safe for everybody else,” he said.
Goebel asked if fluoride is bad for babies and if fluoridated water could be used in mixing a baby’s formula.
Meeske said toothpaste with fluoride is not recommended for children under the age of two because children are more likely to try to eat the toothpaste.
Dr. Keven Wycoff, a family practitioner in Hastings, said the amount of fluoride the state is recommending —one part per million —is such a small amount that it would not hurt a baby.
He said the concern is in areas of the world where the amount of fluoride naturally occurring in the water is higher than the one part per million safe amount.
Mayor Matt Rossen asked if fluoride is harmful to people in any way.
Meeske said the National Institutes of Health have indicated that fluoride, at appropriate levels, is completely safe for the general public and does not pose a health risk.
Wycoff said it is true that fluoride can be dangerous to a person’s health at significantly higher levels but he said the same is true with Tylenol, which if taken at a much higher than recommended dose can also be very harmful.
Butch Hughes, a candidate for the District 33 legislative seat, spoke out against fluoride saying that Hastings Utilities provides the community with wonderful water that shouldn’t be ruined by fluoride.
He said the children with bad teeth have the bad teeth because of nutritional problems, not because of lack of fluoride in the water.
For that reason, Hughes said parents need to take an active role in ensuring that their children are eating good food and brushing their teeth.
“If they want fluoride in the water, I think there should be public hearing and let people on both sides of issue to come forward,” he said.
The bill before the legislature does include an opt-out clause that would allow the people of a community to petition for an election to keep fluoride from being added to the city’s water supply.
Lyle Wilder, of Kingswood Plaza, said he has lived in Hastings for more than 78 years and in that time has continued to fight plans to put fluoride in the city’s water.
“They’ve been fighting for this for more than 30 years,” he said. “They’ve been forcing it on me and I don’t want it.”
The City Council set no specific dates but plans to address the fluoridation issue again in the future.