The Hastings City Council plans to publicly announce their support of fluoridating the city’s water supply Monday.
On Wednesday, the City Council agreed to consider a motion to support the concept of fluoridation after learning about the benefits of fluoridation from a group of Hastings dentists, orthodontists and public health officials.
The City Council’s discussion stemmed from an earlier conversation by the Hastings Utilities Board of Public Works about LB245, a bill now being considered by the Nebraska Legislature, that would require communities with more than 1,000 people to add fluoride to their water.
Hastings residents last considered adding fluoride to the water in 1974 when a measure was defeated to add fluoride to the water supply.
George Anderson, HU board chairman, said the issue boils down to what the residents of Hastings want.
Chuck Shoemaker, HU board member, said he realized after the most recent HU board meeting how much the 1974 election impacted some Hastings residents.
“It was so contentious and so disappointing to some people that they don’t want to do it again,” he said.
Pediatric dentist Jessica Meeske, who spearheaded the group that spoke during Wednesday’s meeting, said it was the naysayers that defeated the 1974 election.
She said the people against fluoridation used scare tactics — like saying fluoride is a poison and that it causes cancer — in an effort to keep fluoride out of the water.
Meeske said that is why she and the other dentists would prefer if fluoridation was authorized either by the City Council or the Nebraska Legislature without going to a vote of the people.
Hastings city administrator Joe Patterson said he believed that the City Council had the authority to approve the addition of fluoride without a vote of the people. He said he would have the correct information for Monday’s meeting.
At Monday’s meeting, the council is planning to consider a resolution to support of the concept of fluoridation. At that time, the council may consider directing HU to work on plans for adding fluoride.
For the last eight years, Meeske said she has met with senators to create a bill that would require cities to add fluoride to the water supply.
She said she has fought to have this bill passed because of the positive effects of fluoride.
“You’re talking about a very small part of a natural mineral that can have such a benefit for your teeth,” she said.
The current proposed legislation would require communities to add enough fluoride to their supply to have one part per million.
“Mother Nature put it there. It’s in the sand our water flows through,” local dentist Michael Kleppinger said.
He said fluoride reduces 60 percent of the decay rate in a human’s teeth.
The city of Hastings currently has .3 parts per million of fluoride naturally in the water supply.
Meeske said the one part per million amount is the optimal amount to do the most to help make teeth’s enamel harder and prevent cavities from forming.
In her years of campaigning to have fluoride added to water in various communities, Meeske told the council that she has heard a variety of theories about how fluoride can be bad for you. The comments ranged from things like that it causes cancer, it’s forced medication or a poison or that its even a communist plot. But all of the dentists in the audience Wednesday assured the City Council that fluoride has no negative effects on humans of any age.
“This is a financial disincentive for dentists to come forward, but it’s an ethical thing to do,” Meeske said.
Hastings orthodontist John Pershing said for every dollar a community puts in for fluoride, that community saves about $38 in dental treatment for its citizens.
“Where else can you as the stewards of Hastings tax dollars get that kind of return on a $1 investment,” he said. “You could do that by going ahead with fluoridation.”
Hastings orthodontist Matt Pershing said fluoride is beneficial for people throughout the entire span of their lives.
“The rate of decay actually increases in adults, so even the older communities like those at Good Samaritan Village would benefit as greatly as children in our community,” he said.
Paula Witt, a nurse and founder of Healthy Beginnings in Hastings, said she sees children from a multi-county area and those children from Superior and other communities that have fluoride in their water have significantly healthier teeth than those in Hastings.
She said 70 years ago, cavities were dealt with simply by removing the teeth. Fifty years ago, dentists started filling the holes left by cavities. Then 20 years ago, dentists started putting sealants over teeth to prevent cavities.
Now she said its time for the city of Hastings to take the next step to improve dental health in Hastings.
“We’re not doing all we can to help our kids in Hastings,” she said.
Michelle Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, said tooth decay is a highly preventable disease but it is the most common chronic disease among youth in the U.S.
She said it can lead to problems with eating, concentrating and keeping children in school.
The discovery and use of fluoride as a preventative measure in the dental field has been around for 63 years and is listed as one of the 10 greatest public health discoveries of the 20th century.
John Pershing said that the addition of fluoride to the city’s water supply would cost a total of $146,076 in the first year to treat 20 wells. That total would include $100,000 for capital improvements, $10,000 for annual operation and maintenance and $36,076 for chemicals, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Steve Cogley, HU customer relations coordinator, said HU actually had 27 wells in operation currently.
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.
Cogley said he would work with HU staff to determine up-to-date cost estimates prior to Monday’s meeting.
Pershing said the talk of centralizing the city’s water supply with a treatment plant could help to reduce the costs.
If the fluoridation process was started now, a fluoridation system would likely need to be set up at each of the city’s well sites.
Anderson said HU will be building the treatment plant within the next seven years. He said that would be the opportune time to add fluoride.
For that reason, he asked if the group would be willing to wait a few years for fluoride to be added.
“We don’t have a problem with taking some time to get it done the right and most cost effective way,” Meeske said. “We just want to get it done.”
Mayor Matt Rossen said he would check with the Legislature to determine if there is any set time as to when the fluoride would have to be added. It isn’t clearly stated in the current legislation.
Anderson said he supports the idea of fluoridation and guessed there was probably no one in the room that opposed the idea.
“And it’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about the community wants and how it is going to work.”