McKinney may soon prove to be an initiator for the North Texas Municipal Water District discontinuing fluoridation of the area’s water supply.
McKinney City Councilman Ray Ricchi, using resident Pam Wenzel’s presentation, expressed a desire Monday that the city and other NTMWD member cities should consider requesting a halt in fluoridation, which has been part of the water district’s treatment procedures since 1981.
“The data and information shows there is no federal or state mandate that requires the water districts to add fluoride to the water,” Ricchi told the City Council at Monday’s work session. “There are a lot of communities abandoning this added fluoride into the water system.”
According to the Fluoride Action Network, which in recent years compiled information related to community water fluoridation, most developed nations including much of western Europe do not fluoridate their drinking water; and since 2010, more than 70 communities have rejected the practice.
Several of those communities, such as College Station and Wichita, Kan., stopped fluoridating their local water supplies in the past few months.
The New York Times recently reported that “the conclusion among these communities is that with fluoride now so widely available in toothpaste and mouthwash, there is less need to add it to water, which already has naturally occurring fluoride.”
Other opponents of the longstanding treatment, like Wenzel, point to fluorosis as a key reason for its end. In her presentation, which Wenzel has shown NTMWD and plans to show other member cities in coming weeks, she displays the label on Mosaic, a reportedly non-FDA-approved product that the water district and other entities use to add fluoride to their water supplies. The label states that “prolonged or repeated overexposure to fluoride compounds may cause fluorosis,” which is “characterized by skeletal changes, consisting of osteosclerosis (hardening or abnormal density of bone) and osteomalacia (softening of bones) and mottled discoloration of the enamel of teeth (if exposure occurs during enamel formation).” Symptoms can include bone and joint pain and limited range of motion, as well as ensuing skin and respiratory disorders, the label states.
“Anytime somebody shows me an MSDS (material safety data sheet) that involves an item being put in my drinking water, it does raise a little concern,” Councilman Roger Harris said.
Introduction of fluoride into toothpaste and other dental products have led some to believe that adding it to water has become unnecessary, if not harmful; and that it could increase one’s risk for dental fluorisis, particularly in infants and adolescents.
A 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) national survey reported that 41 percent of American adolescents now have a form of fluorosis – nearly a 400 percent increase from such rates 60 years ago, around the time community water fluoridation began.
Experimental fluoridation trials started in 1945, several years after studies of mottled dental enamel in parts of the U.S. found that fluoride in the water caused the issue, according to Wenzel’s presentation. When further research determined that people with such teeth had fewer cavities, dental researchers proposed adding fluoride to water supplies to reduce tooth decay.
In 1950, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which had sponsored much of the research, endorsed fluoridation and urged municipalities toward it – a push that many communities across Texas and the U.S. since adopted.
Despite providing statistics on fluorisis, the PHS and CDC still back the practice, partly because their officials say fluoride in water is important for those who cannot afford dental care. The CDC still posits community water fluoridation – adding fluoride to drinking water – as “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
“We have had big wins and significant losses,” Dr. William Bailey, chief dental officer for the PHS and then-director for CDC’s oral health division, told the New York Times in October 2011. “Fluoridation helps people of all ages and income groups. And it helps people who can’t get in to receive care.”
After a push from three, all 13 NTMWD member cities requested in 1981 that the district begin adding fluoride to its water supply, and the water district’s website states that “the addition of fluoride to the treated water supply improves the public’s oral health and assists in the prevention of tooth decay.”
But the level of fluoridation is minimal, said Denise Hickey, NTMWD spokesperson. The district’s latest water quality analysis shows there’s naturally 0.391 milligrams of fluoride per liter (mg/L) of raw water. After treatment, that number rises to 0.588 mg/L, thus the district adds about 0.2 mg/L. The EPA’s recommendation is 4.0 mg/L.
“We’re way below that standard,” Hickey said. “Even though we add some to the water supply, we add very little.”
Ricchi brought up fluoridation costs, saying they could be a waste of expenses if the practice is no longer necessary or preferred. “There have been some cities whose equipment [for adding fluoride] has broken down, and instead of replacing it and repairing it, they decided not to add the fluoride to the water,” he told the City Council.
Last fiscal year, it cost the NTMWD about $762,000 – less than 0.5 percent of its roughly $172 million total water budget – to add fluoride, Hickey said.
Still, she said that the district “gets calls frequently from people in the community” about fluoridation, and that “it’s certainly not a new topic.” For an end to the practice, every member city would have to send a notification letter or request to the district, as they did for its implementation.
“There’s really no way to stop fluoridated water from going out to one or a couple of cities, so they’d all have to be on board,” Hickey said.
NTMWD board president Charles McKissick, at Monday’s meeting, said of the member cities: “The district is here for whatever you all desire to do.”
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the request at its March 5 meeting.
“The more information we can have, the better,” Mayor Brian Loughmiller said. “Then, each of us can make a decision and move forward in terms of making that recommendation.”