On June 14 the Mt. Pleasant City Commission voted to temporarily reduce the amount of fluoride being added to the city’s water supply to the lowest level consistent with the language of the 2005 ballot proposal in which the voters approved adding fluoride to the water system.
That proposal included language that said “the Commission by resolution shall have the authority, from time to time, to change the proportions thereof.” Since June 14 there has been a bit of controversy about whether the City Commission had the right to take that action.
As the chairperson of the task force and a member of the City Commission, I want to assure people that neither the City Commission nor the Fluoride Task Force had any intention of ignoring the voters. The task force has assumed from the beginning that any final decision on this issue would be put before the voters.
The City Commission created the task force in 2008 because of new information that came out after the 2005 vote. That information included the March 2006 report of the National Research Council identifying potential health risks associated with the current standards for fluoride in drinking water and calling on the EPA to conduct new studies to reassess the health risks and establish new guidelines. That review is now in progress.
It also included the November 2006 advisories issued by the Center for Disease Control and the American Dental Association saying that baby formula should not be mixed with fluoridated water because studies concluded that many infants are now being over-exposed to fluoride.
In reviewing these reports and other information that came out after 2005, the task force concluded that water fluoridation appears to pose an unnecessary risk to at least some segments of the population, especially infants. Those interested in the specific reasons for this conclusion are encouraged to read the full report of the Task Force which is available on the city’s website (www.mt-pleasant.org) [ See Report ]
The discussion that has followed the June 14 decision has raised two important questions. The first is why didn’t the commission vote to put the issue back on the ballot immediately?
The task force recommendation was based on the desire to avoid putting the issue back on the ballot prematurely. The EPA review of fluoride is still being conducted. New maximum standards have not yet been established. We believe it would be a mistake to put the question back on the ballot with incomplete information. This issue has already been on the ballot three times since 1997. It seemed prudent to wait for the EPA’s conclusions before placing this on the ballot again in the hope that this issue can finally be settled.
The second question raised is why not leave the amount of fluoride at the current level until the EPA concludes its report?
The task force believes that the “precautionary principle” dictates that we err on the side of safety. Until we feel that we can say with a high degree of confidence that water fluoridation is doing no harm, we believe it is prudent to limit the amount of fluoride being added to the lowest level legally permitted by the 2005 ballot proposal.
This action is consistent with the recent recommendation of the prestigious President’s Cancer Panel in its annual report. The panel said that the past practice of assuming a chemical is safe when studies show conflicting results needs to be reversed. They argued that when there are indications that a chemical may be causing harm, authorities should use a precautionary, prevention-oriented approach and take action to reduce or eliminate exposure until the evidence shows the chemical is, in fact, safe.
The task force recommendation is based on the belief the precautionary approach is justified in this situation. We also believe that is exactly what the voters intended when they approved the language in the 2005 ballot proposal authorizing the commission to adjust the levels of fluoride from time to time.