For decades, the city of Laramie has fluoridated its water supply, as is common practice for cities across the nation. But following the recent inquiries of a concerned resident, the Laramie City Council is scheduled to host a work session Tuesday addressing the fluoridation of municipal water.
City Manager Janine Jordan said it’s the first time she’s aware of that the city’s government would address the matter in a public forum.
“City staff have routinely provided information to those interested residents and elected officials regarding national standards and recommendations for fluoridation,” Jordan said. “However, the governing body has never, since I’ve been city manager, formally taken up the question of whether to cease fluoridation.”
The city follows national standards for drinking water, as both the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control recommend adding fluoride to drinking water, Jordan said.
However, Jordan said there is a “valid and robust debate throughout the nation concerning the pros and cons of fluoridation.”
Fluoride occurs naturally in most water to varying degrees. Fluoridation of public water supplies is intended to prevent tooth decay by adding fluoride to water so it reaches optimal levels for prevention. Mike Lytle, water treatment supervisor, said Laramie’s source waters typically contain about 0.1-0.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. The CDC recommends water supplies should have a fluoride level of approximately 0.7 mg/l. Approximately 0.5 mg/l of the compound sodium fluorosilicate is added to Laramie’s water to reach the national standard, Lytle said.
“Basically, we feed the product in proportional to the flow rate so we get about 0.5 mg/l residual of fluoride ion,” Lytle said.
There is no federal mandate to fluoridate water supplies, though several states require municipalities to fluoridate water. The CDC maintains the benefits of fluoridation are evident — citing reductions in tooth decay by 25 percent in children and adults — and that “no convincing scientific evidence” suggests it is linked to adverse health effects or systemic disorders. In 2015, the standard levels for fluoridation were reduced by the CDC from 0.7-1.2 mg/l to reduce the risk of dental fluorosis — which is not a disease and has mostly benign effects, according to the American Dental Association.
Debates have gone back and forth since fluoridation of municipal water supplies began in Michigan in 1945, though conclusive evidence of the alleged detrimental effects of fluoridation from international and domestic testing has never been found. Significant scientific studies documented by the National Cancer Institute found no correlation between cancer and appropriate levels of fluoridation.
According to the Buffalo Bulletin, health experts in Johnson County — where the rate for untreated tooth decay is at 41.54 percent, compared to the state average of 27.24 percent — have made a case for adding fluoride to a water supply with relatively low levels. The city of Sheridan began a fluoridation program earlier in 2016.
Though he said he’s unable to determine whether the health benefits of fluoridating Laramie’s water has the intended outcomes for dental health, Public Works Director Earl Smith said he’s never encountered negative side effects.
“I can’t answer the effective part — I’m not a public health professional, so it’s outside my expertise — but it has been done safely,” Smith said. “We’ve had no incidents I’m aware of.”
Lytle said the most significant challenge they run into with the compound is maintaining a steady supply.
“Suppliers come and go in and out of business,” he said.
No sources in the U.S. currently produce the compound, so the city purchases it from China, Lytle said.
Based on the last four years of expenses, city staff produced an average of annual fluoridation at a total of just more than $60,500, with staff time and chemicals as the most expensive elements of the program.
City staff will implement fluoridation practices as determined by the public policies of the City Council, Jordan said.
“It is timely and utterly warranted for the Laramie community to consider whether or not to continue the practice of fluoridation,” Jordan said.
The work session of the Laramie City Council is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 406 Ivinson St.