Cost-cutting decision puts village in minority of municipalities that don’t use recommended additive
The Saukville Village Board voted unanimously last week to stop adding fluoride to its municipal drinking water, a process long-considered to be an important, cost-effective way to promote good dental health.
Trustees accepted a recommendation from the village’s Utility Committee that treatment be discontinued based on cost, a decision that puts the village out of sync with most municipal water systems in Ozaukee County and the nation.
Port Washington, Grafton, Cedarburg and Mequon all treat their municipal water with fluoride, serving more than 41,000 residents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75% of the country’s municipal water utilities fluoridated their water in 2012.
The villages of Belgium and Fredonia do not fluoridate their water, nor do any of the 44 privately operated water cooperatives commonly serving large rural subdivisions.
The Village of Saukville’s decision to halt fluoridation was driven primarily by the fact that incorporating fluoridation equipment into a new municipal water well in its industrial park would add thousands of dollars to the cost of the project, officials said.
Utility Committee members questioned whether the added cost was justified, considering a village report shows that just 4% of municipal water is consumed as drinking water. The value of fluoride is limited to its contact with tooth enamel.
The remaining 96% of the village’s water consumption is used for such things as bathing, laundry, toilet flushing and cooking. In all of those uses, officials noted, the benefits of fluoride are lost but not the expense.
But Port Washington Water Supt. Dave Ewig said he was surprised by Saukville’s decision to eliminate fluoridation, especially considering its universal acceptance by the dental community.
“I never considered it (eliminating fluoride),” Ewig said. “We feed four chemicals into our water, and fluoride is not nearly the most expensive.”
When Saukville officials talked about eliminating fluoridation a decade ago, Ewig said, local dentists were adamant that the process is vital to the health of children’s teeth.
Aside from a cost factor, Saukville Water Supt. Dale Kropidlowski said there has been a growing sentiment in the village against fluoridation.
“I would say we received about six calls from residents in just the past three months,” Kropidlowski said.
“One lady said she just moved here and was hoping we did not fluoridate because it impedes thyroid function. Another suggested that it lowers intelligence in developing children and increases the risk of bone cancer in boys.”
He said another resident called and asked if the village fluoridates, and when told it does, “she became quite upset and hung up.”
Opponents of fluoridation for years maintained that fluoride is linked to health problems such as cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease and osteoporosis, but those claims have been debunked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A position paper from the agency on the issue says scientific evidence does not recognize a link “between water fluoridation and any adverse health affect.”
According to the CDC, studies that indicate health risks linked to fluoridation have generally involved concentrations markedly higher than are allowed in any municipal water system.
What appears to be beyond dispute is the benefit gained from fluoride, the agency notes, especially by reducing the amount and severity of tooth decay.
“For children younger than age 8, fluoride helps strengthen the adult (permanent) teeth that are developing under the gums,” a CDC report says.
“For adults, drinking water with fluoride supports tooth enamel, keeping teeth strong and healthy.”
A CDC study suggested each dollar spent on fluoridation saves at least $38 in future dental treatment costs.
So strong has the government’s support for fluoridation been, it was named one of the country’s 10 greatest public health achievements over the past 70 years by the CDS.
Saukville officials don’t dispute the value of fluoride in promoting dental health, but they question how much of that benefit comes from drinking municipal water.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the optimal level of fluoride in municipal water systems is .7 milligrams per liter.
That, village officials said, is only slightly higher than the .5 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water that is expected to be found naturally in village water once Well No. 6 is brought on line.
“After considering the overall annual operational and maintenance expenses, including testing, the committee decided it was not worth the expense to continue infusing fluoride into the village’s water system for such a small added value,” Kropidlowski said.
Fluoride through other sources has also become increasingly available, he said.
“There are 1,000 milligrams per liter of fluoride in most tooth paste (about 2,000 times more than is available from treated water), as well as many other avenues, such as mouth washes and dental application,” Kropidlowski said.
The village purchased 750 gallons of fluoride for $4,000 last year. About 2.1 gallons of the treatment are pumped into the 1.2 million gallons of water that leaves the municipal water plant every day.
Based on the Village Board’s decision, the current supply of fluoride is expected to last until August, when it will not be replenished.
“When the current product is used up, that will be the end of it,” Kropidlowski said.
In an ironic twist, two years ago the village received a Water Fluoridation Quality Award from the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
The award lauded the utility for maintaining fluoride levels at an optimum range for 12 consecutive months.
A decade before receiving that award, the village considered eliminating fluoridation but the action was dropped after a survey showed strong community support for the treatment.