LA MESA — Helix Water District began fluoridating its water 17 months ago because it had to. This week, the district’s board decided to spend $155,000 annually to continue the process.
The Helix Water District board voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of fluoridation after hearing from supporters who say the process reduces dental cavities and from opponents who say fluoridation is unsafe and causes a range of health problems.
Helix was required to begin fluoridating its water in December 2007 because of a state law requiring larger water districts to fluoridate if the funding is offered. Helix was placed at the top of a statewide priority list because its cost per customer was the lowest.
The water district received an $80,600 grant from the state Department of Public Health and a $361,000 grant from the California Dental Association Foundation to install equipment and pay for treatment. Money from those grants will run out at the end of this month.
Because no more outside funds are available, Helix was not required to continue fluoridation.
The district started fluoridating its water at the same time the Metropolitan Water District began fluoridating the treated water that it supplies to San Diego County through the San Diego County Water Authority.
Because county water districts receive varying amounts of treated and raw, or untreated, water from the water authority, the level of fluoridation varies around the county. For example, some neighborhoods in the city of San Diego receive optimal fluoridation while others receive little or no fluoridation.
Helix gets raw water from the San Diego County Water Authority and treats the water at its treatment plant. The district serves La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and unincorporated areas near El Cajon.
Robert Harlon, an Escondido dentist who is president of the San Diego County Dental Society, said the number of children he’s seen who need root canals because of cavities has gone down 50 percent since Escondido began fluoridating in 2004.
“Dental caries is a preventable disease,” he said.
Wren Osborn, 75, an El Cajon resident, said she doesn’t want her water fluoridated because she believes it causes diseases such as brain damage, obesity and cancer.
You don’t have a medical license, yet you are medicating me,” she told the Helix board.
Helix General Manager Mark Weston said he supports continuing fluoridation to help keep fluoridation levels more consistent around the county since the County Water Authority plans to keep fluoridating its treated water.
He noted that the city of San Diego accepted a $3.9 million grant to fluoridate the city’s water system, and is required to begin fluoridating its water by May 2010.
Although Helix’s chemical and maintenance costs for a year of fluoridation are estimated at $155,000, district officials noted that they will recover $31,000 of that cost from water sales to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District and the Otay Water District.
The district said it is also saving $25,000 because it will not have to notify physicians and dentists about discontinuing fluoridation.