The majority on the Juneau Fluoride Study Commission recommends against shutting down the city’s public water fluoridation until members see a highly anticipated federal study next month, its chairman said Thursday.
Mayor Bruce Botelho’s appointed commission was scheduled to make a final recommendation to the Juneau Assembly this month. The commission was appointed to make recommendations to the mayor, city manager, and Assembly regarding the use of dental fluoride in city drinking water.
Chairman Bart Rozell said the commission is waiting for the National Academy of Sciences’ report on fluoride toxicology. There are four members who believe the city should continue fluoridation in the immediate future, while two members believe the program should end now, Rozell said.
“The study could be the key to many of our final recommendations, and while I cannot speak for everyone I will say I believe it doesn’t warrant shutting down the program now,” Rozell said. “The future is unclear until the report comes out. Across the board.”
Fluoridation for cavity prevention has polarized Juneau since the city stopped it without notice in June 2003 to study the copper level in drinking water. Since then city officials have worked with state and federal agencies in establishing new copper levels at the Mendenhall water treatment plant because the old requirements were unreasonably restrictive, Public Works Director Joe Buck said.
The city resumed fluoridation in March 2004.
Commission members Emily Kane and Jamie Bursell say the city should cease fluoride operations until reviewing the study. In a letter to Assembly members and Botelho, Kane requested that the city become a flouride-free community now because she believes potential risks outweigh the benefits.
She said she would rather see Juneau establish a revolving dental chairperson in the public school system.
“Fluoride applied to young school children seems to harden enamel,” Kane said in her letter. “Fluoride also causes irreversible hardening of the bones, making them more brittle and susceptible to fracture.”
Kane said she believes fluoridation causes IQ reduction and certain cancers.
Others on the commission don’t share her fear.
“At this point I believe the program should be left alone,” commission member Deborah Erickson said. “I don’t believe there is great evidence that any perceived risks outweigh the benefits.”
Rozell said the issue is a hot topic in the community.
“We understand this is a subject that becomes controversial on both sides,” Rozell said. “It is not quite as hotly debated as abortion, but people want to hop in across the nation.”
The commission was tasked with researching and evaluating the scientific literature regarding the use of fluoride in municipal drinking water; researching and evaluating the process used by other municipalities in making decisions regarding fluoridation of municipal drinking water; performing a cost-benefit and risk analysis regarding the use of fluoride in municipal drinking water.
“I looked at a pile of reports and each stated that it was absolutely conclusive (that) the least expensive way to provide dental care to the entire community is through water fluoridation,” commissioner member Ron Hansen said.
Assembly member Merrill Sanford said the committee’s recommendations will be important to his decision. There are so many experts with such strong opinions that he is not sure what he would do.
“When we shut it, off people were mad, and when we turned it back on, people were mad,” Sanford said. “We just need good, solid facts as soon as they come out.”
The city adds about one part fluoride for every million parts water, the dosage recommended by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Buck said.
“Actually the fluoridation system has not been operating since November because of pump failure, but we will get online as soon as it is repaired,” Buck said. “It was a mechanical failure of the original pumps that costs about $10,000 to fix.”
City Manager Rod Swope said no decision will be made until all factors are taken into account.