ROGERSVILLE — In years gone by, fluoride as an additive to public drinking water was widely championed as a major ingredient in the prevention of cavities in children.
Recent studies, however, have shown that the overall beneficial effects are negligible and, in some cases, could even be detrimental to some people’s health, as well as causing major damage to public utility pipes.
Water superintendent Sean Hatchett said at the Tuesday evening meeting of the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen that it costs the Water Department more than $40,000 annually just to purchase the chemicals.
Hatchett and BMA member Craig Kirkpatrick said that during the earlier meeting of the Water Board on Tuesday, it was decided to begin the preliminary process of removing fluoride from the local water supply.
Before a final vote can be taken, to comply with state law, a letter must first go out to all water customers giving them 30 days to comment on the proposed move before any additional action is taken.
Apparently there was an advisory referendum in the 1950’s, City Attorney William Phillips said, which resulted in the addition of the chemical to Rogersville’s drinking water. There would be no need to hold another public referendum, he said, but added that at the end of the 30-day comment period, the water board may want to hold a public hearing on the matter prior to any final vote being taken. That board would then have to recommend to the BMA that it likewise vote to approve the proposal. If the BMA likewise votes “yes”, then an ordinance would be drafted which would require the appropriate number of “readings” before a final decision could be made.
Kirkpatrick said that notices asking for comments will go out with water bills.
Adding fluoride to water as an oral health benefit has always been voluntary, Hatchett said, but added that a substantial number of public utilities across the country are no longer using fluoride due to negligible oral health benefits and the fact that, in concentrated amounts, the substance — which is not “naturally occurring fluoride” — is corrosive and over time can cause major damage to water mains and even plumbing inside homes and businesses.
“Basically it’s not doing anything except helping people prevent cavities between the ages of 12 to 14,” Hatchett said. “The largest study ever done in the United States was in two different communities, one fluoridated and one not. There was no significant difference in either one of them.”
It costs the utility about $116 per one million gallons of water treated, he said, with the town producing about 30 million gallons per month.
“It’s $40,000 in chemicals, and then a potential of more (savings) with its corrosive nature to the pipes,” said Alderman Mark DeWitte, who is also a member of the water board. “This can save some infrastructure, too.”