The issue of whether to add fluoride to three Shelby County municipal water systems will be decided in a public survey the second in as many years.
The Columbiana Water Board is asking its customers in a printed questionnaire to answer “yes” or “no” on whether they want fluoridated water to flow to area homes and businesses. Two other, smaller public utilities are polling customers in the same manner; the Bethel and Little Waxie water boards serve customers in areas around Columbiana, including Wilsonville, Shelby and East Saginaw.
In all, 5,300 Shelby County residents will be asked the fluoride question in the coming days and weeks. The yes-or-no questionnaire is stuffed into the April water billing statements for all three utilities; the two smaller providers buy their water from the Columbiana Water Board.
In January 2002, the Columbiana City Council surveyed 1,400 residents by mail on whether they wanted fluoride. Only 80 responses came back, Columbiana Mayor Tom Seale said. Of those who responded, 72 said “yes” to fluoride and 8 said “no” to the dental-health additive.
In April, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution urging the Water Board to move forward with fluoridation. But the utility has yet to decide what it wants to do. “Many people, including the City Council, are very much in favor of fluoride,” Seale said this week. He said he hoped the 2003 survey would convince his city’s utility operators to add fluoride to the water by this summer.
A Water Board official said equipment would have to be installed and the project could be finished sometime this year.
Columbiana Water Board Chairman John Farr, however, said there was considerable opposition to fluoride in the community since many people question the safety of the additive.
He said the latest survey was another way to gauge public opinion on the issue before the Water Board takes action.
“We thought the customers should have a voice in fluoridation,” Farr said.
By last week, hundreds of the April billing statements including the fluoridation questionnaire had gone out to customers. The remaining bills are scheduled to be mailed in the next few days.
Farr said tallying the responses would start next month.
According to the state Department of Public Health, eight of 14 water systems in Shelby County do not have fluoridated water. By contrast, all of Jefferson County’s 13 municipal water systems are served by fluoridated water and 82 percent of Alabama is fluoridated.
The push to add fluoride to public water systems over the past few years has been taken up by public health officers and dentists, said state Dental Director Stuart Lockwood.
He said the natural element is a harmless way to prevent cavities and build strong teeth, especially in children.
But opponents of fluoridation say the kind of fluoride used by water utilities is actually a waste by-product of manufacturing that could cause cancer when ingested by humans. Lockwood dismissed such claims as “Internet misinformation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the World Health Organization support fluoridation of public water supplies.