Faced with a very passionate decision, Elgin city council members will be deciding at their Nov. 20 meeting whether to put the issue of fluoridating Elgin’s water supply to voters or decide themselves.
Council members held a workshop on the issue Oct. 16 and had a number of residents and specialists speak as well as ask questions themselves.
Elgin’s water system has a small amount of naturally occurring fluoride, but it is not at the level recommended by the state. Elgin added fluoride to its water supply beginning in 1984, but stopped adding it when work on the water treatment plant began, said Utilities Director Doug Prinz. “It became a maintenance issue when we were working on the plant. The line kept being broken, so we stopped adding it,” said Prinz.
The fluoride compound added to Elgin’s water before the plant underwent upgrades was hydrofluosilicic acid. Prinz explained there are two types available, the hydrofluosilicic acid and a dry powder called sodium fluoride which has to be mixed. Prinz said most cities use hydrofluosilicic acid. “It is highly corrosive. I’ve seen a few drops of it eat straight through a six-inch thick slab of concrete when spilled. It requires our operators to wear acid protective clothing and breathing apparatus, so I do have concerns about our operators handling a hazardous material daily,” said Prinz.
Prinz included in a letter to the council information he has researched of fluoridation of water. “I quickly discovered that this is not an issue unique to the City of Elgin. This appears to be a rapidly growing issue throughout the country over the last few years. It also appears to be very controversial,” he said.
Prinz provided council members with information about fluoride. “It is a waste product of fertilizer production. Hydrofluosilicic acid is derived from pollution scrubbing operations. A common source is the processing of phosphate rock to make fertilizers. The rock also contains fluoride, silica and traces of heavy metal such as uranium, radium, radon and lead. When phosphate rock is treated with sulfuric acid, silicon tetrafluoride and hydrogen fluoride gases pass through scrubbers and react with water to form hydrofluosilicic acid. I have included a specifications sheet for LCI LTD, a fertilizer company that also produces hydrofluosilicic acid, and yes, the traces of heavy metals are still in it,” he explained to council members. Prinz went on to say the Environmental Protection Agency instructs him to keep those metals out of Elgin’s water supply.
“In my investigations it is clear that fluoride is beneficial in protecting teeth from cavities when applied directly to the surface of the tooth. There is no argument about that. It is when fluoride is taken internally, such as in the case of drinking water, that the argument begins. You have to remember that fluoridation in water supplies began in 1945, before most laws were in place. Now no one wants to rock the boat and admit that they might be wrong,” Prinz continued.
“An example is that since 1945 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come into being and would now classify it as a drug since it is ingested and therefore only a doctor could prescribe it. Toothpaste is okay because it is not supposed to be ingested. Read any warning label on any tube of toothpaste and it will say, do not ingest, harmful or fatal if swallowed, and call poison control. The FDA is also quick to point out that they don’t regulate drinking water supplies, the EPA does, and they say it is okay as long as you don’t exceed a maximum contaminate level (MCL) of 4.o milligrams per liter (mg.l). The Center for Disease Control and the American Dental Association says the optimum level in drinking water is between 0.7 mg/l and 1.2 mg/l. So which agency is right and who knows how much fluoridated water any one person drinks in a day and when they reach that maximum contaminate level?”
Prinz cited an example in Juneau, Alaska, where council members were faced with this decision. They set up a six-member committee and they were dead-locked. The council then passed the decision on to voters who voted two-to-one to not fluoridate the water. Prinz quoted a Juneau newspaper article which said multiple scientific studies showed even in modest concentrations fluoride can impact brain development and IQ, impair kidneys and thyroid function, contribute to bone pathology and inhibit enzyme systems. The writer, Jamie Bursell, studied the issue for two years, said Prinz. She added, “These health benefits are of special concern for infants and children because chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children since they are smaller in size and their developing organs are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins.”
Prinz’ letter to the council also stated the Center for Disease Control and the American Dental Association issued advisories to parents of bottle-fed infants recommending they not use tap water to mix formula to protect the babies from excessive fluoride consumption. Although those in favor of fluoridating water say it helps the teeth of youth in low-income families, Bursell also pointed out that studies show low-income families are more likely to bottle-feed their infants and less likely to be able to purchase bottled water to mix formula. “To compound this situation, in the case of infants, there is no benefit whatsoever to fluoride. It has been conclusively established that the decay preventing properties of fluoride come from application directly to the teeth. Since infants don’t have teeth, there is no benefit to them from taking fluoride. No benefit. Only risk. A risk that falls disproportionately on the least advantaged.” Prinz encourages residents to read the article by Bursell. See the articles, ‘My turn: What I learned on the Fluoride Study Commission’ and ‘Keep Juneau’s water fluoride free’ at JuneauEmpire.com.
Prinz also pointed out the costs involved in fluoridating water. Hydrofluosilicic acid is $271.80 for a 55-gallon drum. Past records show the city was using seven gallons per day, which comes to about $12,953.85 per year. “We would have to purchase two chemical pumps at a cost of approximately $500 each and replace some piping to the old plant and add some piping to the new plant. So it would cost approximately $14,500 to resume pumping fluoride,” said Prinz.
Phone calls received at the water plant were largely in favor of not adding fluoride to the water. “In conclusion, I cannot recommend the fluoridation of our water. It is just my opinion that something this controversial should be an individual choice and not forced on everyone.” said Prinz.
PROFESSIONALS FOR FLUORIDATION
Speaking out in favor of fluoridating Elgin’s water supply were Dr. Carl Herring and Thomas Napier, PE. Dr. Herring is a dentist in Elgin and Napier is a fluoridation engineer with the Department of State Health Services. Napier pointed out that 182 water systems in Texas fluoridate water, which is about 78 percent of the population of Texas. He said there are thousands more residents who have naturally occurring fluoride in their water systems, mostly west of a north-south line drawn between Abilene and Del Rio. He said studies have been conducted in 1993 and again in 2006 on fluoridating water and suggested studies will continue as long as fluoridation of water supplies is continued. Napier explained that at the beginning of the 1900s public water systems began using chlorine which prevented 10,000 deaths per year. “Zero is the only number we accept now,” said Napier. He said chlorine and fluoride are halogens. “Fluoride is so reactive it doesn’t exist in a natural state. It is always encountered in nature as an ion,” Napier said. He said most articles against the use of fluoride in water are hysterical in nature and based on fear.
“Fluoridation is supported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the American Water Works and the American Dental Association (ADA),” added Napier. He said the information on using bottled water to mix infants’ formula was not meant to frighten people on water fluoridation. The reason ADA and the CDC recommend using bottled water is to prevent fluorosis, barely noticeable white lines or streaks on tooth enamel. He said it is usually very mild and often undetected by anyone except a dentist.
“I have seen the result of not having fluoride in the water,” said Dr. Herring. “The people affected most are the children in the community.” A letter regarding the ADA’s ‘Interim Guidance on Fluoride Intake for Infants and Young Children’ was provided to the council by Elgin Family Dental. The letter states, “The American Dental Association continues to endorse community water fluoridation as a safe, beneficial and cost-effective public health measure for preventing dental decay. Studies prove water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent, even in an era of widespread availability of fluoride from other sources such as fluoride toothpaste. Community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and improve oral health over a lifetime for both children and adults.”
The letter also stated that 170 million people, over 2/3 of the population of America, are served fluoridated public water. The ADA has the backing of more than 100 national and international organizations which recognize the public health benefit for fluoridation. “In fact, the CDC has proclaimed fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century,” the letter states.
Others speaking out at the meeting were not inclined to want Elgin’s water fluoridated. Sue Brashar said, “As the protector of my family, I should be able to have a choice whether or not I want to give such chemicals to my family. It is my duty to protect my family’s teeth and I do so by giving them toothpaste, fluoride rinses and mouthwashes that are fortified with fluoride used in a topical application.” Brashar also pointed out the city spent a lot of time and money stripping the water tower of lead paint to help keep Elgin’s water safe. “Does it make sense to turn around after all of those precautions to fill that same water tank back up with water that has all of those nice chemicals including lead?”
Brashar made the observation that Napier’s job at the state was to push for fluoride. She also mentioned Dr. Herring’s licensing agency, the ADA, pushes for fluoride.
Sandy Murphree also spoke against using fluoride in city water. “There are also over 1,000 nationally known scientists against fluoride,” she argued against the number of associations for it. She pointed out there are still basic questions in its use after 60 years of use. “Fluoride is not a magic pill – the risks don’t make it worthwhile,” she said.
Brad Beyer said he did not want fluoride in the city’s water. He said some effects are decreased thyroid function, links to cancer, lower IQ in children, nervous system misfunction and a greater percent of infant mortality. “In Kansas City, infant mortality went up five percent the first year fluoride was added and went up to 36 percent within five years. Why would you want to ingest something if the effects are there?”
Beyer also said Japan has the lowest infant mortality and no fluoride in water. “It is a waste product of chemical companies. Hazardous waste costs $1.40 per gallon to get rid of. They are instead making money selling it for public water supplies.”
A. L. DiFelice said he was in favor of adding fluoride to Elgin’s water, but he thought the people should vote on it. He suggested the wording of the question on the ballot would make people think about it more.
COUNCIL MEMBERS SPEAK
Three council members were strongly opposed to fluoridating Elgin’s water. Stephen Kylberg in Ward 4 and Pat Frenzel in Ward 3 voiced their concerns about adding it to the water. Kylberg said he had at one time considered a campaign against it. “We can use toothpaste with fluoride by choice,” said Kylberg. Frenzel said in her acupuncture practice she has to detox people who have adverse affects to the halogens in their bodies. “We shouldn’t impose on people who do have problems,” said Frenzel.
Council member Theresa McShan in Ward 1 said, “It didn’t help my teeth.” She suggested it’s more how people care for their teeth and genetics than fluoride in the water. “I think it’s safer to leave it out since we have it naturally occurring anyway.”
Council member Anthony Ramirez in Ward 2 said he had read more positive affects from fluoridation. He added San Antonio residents decided to have their fluoride in their water. “I don’t have any tooth decay,” said Ramirez.
Council member Sylvia Ramirez in Ward 2 suggested the council put it on the ballot to see what the city wants.
Mayor Gladys Markert said, “We should let the people decide. This is a very passionate issue.” Kylberg expressed some concern the people would not be educated enough on the issue to decide and would be swayed by professionals who get paid to campaign for it.
Council member W. C. Estes in Ward 3 said although he was leaning against it, he wanted more data before deciding.
City Manager Jeff Coffee urged council members to make a decision quickly. “Don’t spend from now until January 15 on the merits of fluoride at the sacrifice of other issues,” he said.
WHAT OTHER CITIES DO
A number of cities in the local area do not add fluoride to the water. Water superintendents in several of those cities said fluoride occurs naturally in the well water. Cities without fluoridated water are Giddings, Lexington, McDade and areas served by Aqua Water Supply Corporation.
Cities around Elgin that have fluoridated water include Bastrop and Austin. Austin gets its water supply from surface water which does not have naturally occurring fluoride.
Smithville, Manor, Hutto and Pflugerville did not answer calls inquiring about fluoride addition to the water.