In an effort to reassess water fluoridation, some City Council members have requested new data on Phoenix’s fluoride-treated water that serves more than 1.4 million residents.
The Water Services Department will provide City Council and a subcommittee with information about the total cost of fluoridation as well as expert opinion of fluoride’s oral health benefits, said Ken Kroski, a spokesman for the Water Services Department.
Such information will be presented to the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee in September.
The report, as requested by a few council members, will also include the effects of drinking fluoridated water and whether the widespread use of bottled water has changed recommendations of fluoride, Kroski said.
Phoenix’s water supply has a natural level of fluoride that measures about 0.3 parts per million gallons of water (ppm). The city increases that level to 0.7 ppm during the water’s treatment process, which is the lowest range recommended by health experts for dental benefits, according to the Water Services Department.
“We’ve been way ahead of the game, nowhere near the upper levels of what is allowed,” Kroski said of Phoenix’s fluoride levels compared to the rest of the country.
Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said fluoridation is a good, common sense public health measure that’s inexpensive.
Supporters of the city’s fluoridated water, which advocate for its dental health advantages, are said to also benefit financially.
Two studies sponsored by the Center for Disease Control found in 2001 that in communities of more than 20,000 people, which Ahwatukee would fall under at a population of more than 77,000, it cost about 50 cents per person to fluoridate the water. For every dollar spent, it yielded approximately $38 in annual savings on average dental treatment costs per person, according to the Water Services Department.
The $582,000 that Phoenix spends annually on water fluoridation could return more than $22,000,000 of savings in annual average dental treatment costs to residents, based on those studies.
Of that annual cost, $420,000 is for the actual chemical, according to the Water Services Department. Broken down, it costs an annual 39 cents per person for the fluoridated water supply.
But those against fluoridation, however, like Ahwatukee resident John Jurik, insist the costs don’t match up.
“We don’t drink all the water that comes into our house,” said Jurik, who added that his household drinks less than 1 percent of the fluoridated water that comes in and the rest is used to wash clothes, fill pools and do the dishes.
“So for every $100 we spend on fluoridation, over $99 goes to something other than our teeth,” Jurik said.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who said he has also “never been a fan” of water fluoridation, insists that the issue be brought back to the council’s table.
The debate over water has not been addressed formally among council members since the decision to increase the fluorine level of water supply in 1990.
Ultimately, decision rests with the Phoenix City Council once data is presented by the Water Services Department.
“We want to do what’s best for customers, and if the health experts say it’s OK, then we trust it,” Kroski said.
• Diana Martinez is freelancing this summer for the Ahwatukee Foothills News.