Fluoridated water will be flowing from South Bay taps this fall for the first time when a regional water supplier begins to add fluoride to the supplies it delivers to the six-county area in the cause of dental health.
While Los Angeles and Long Beach have long had fluoridated water, smaller cities like those in the South Bay have not, often due to the expense. Advocates in 2003 were successful in persuading the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies aqueduct-imported water to Southern California, to take on the job.
Water fluoridation, however, remains controversial and one environmental group — looking at a recent study that questions the safety of fluoridated water for infants — is calling on the MWD to spread the word before adding the fluoride.
“We’re not trying to block the program. We’re trying to ask, ‘What are your plans for informing people?’ ” said Bill Walker of the Environmental Working Group.
The MWD said Friday that it plans to work with its member agencies — cities and other local water suppliers — to put out the word.
Originally scheduled to start in July, the program is now set for October. MWD supplies about half of the South Bay’s drinking water.
The MWD board of directors in 2003 voted to fluoridate on the urging of advocates trying to spread the practice in largely nonfluoridated California in the interest of fighting tooth decay.
“Water fluoridation is considered by almost all public health people to be the safest, most effective way to get fluoridation to the public, and fluoridation is the best known ingredient to prevent tooth decay,” said Wynne Grossman, executive director of the Oakland-based Dental Health Foundation, which was part of the coalition that urged MWD to fluoridate.
Opponents of water fluoridation argue that it is unsafe and unhealthy.
The Environmental Working Group points out that the American Dental Association recently called attention to a study that found babies a year old or younger should not be given fluoridated tap water, for example to mix in with powdered baby formula.
The study found that the babies getting fluoridated water may be susceptible to dental fluorosis, a streaking of the permanent teeth.
Until further studies can produce more definitive results, the ADA recommends that parents find distilled or demineralized water at the grocery store for baby formula.
“By our calculations, there’s about 240,000 kids, 1 year old and younger, in Metropolitan’s service area,” EWG’s Walker said. “We want to know how are the parents of these children going to be informed before they start getting this extra fluoride in their water.”
A study last year looked at a link between fluoridated water and a type of bone cancer in boys, but in that instance, the ADA did not find the results definitive enough to issue any recommendations, saying that the study did not prove a linkage between fluoride and the disease.
MWD senior environmental specialist Edgar Dymally said MWD’s capital costs are about $5 million compared with the estimated $25 million to $30 million it would take for the individual water districts and cities to start fluoridating on their own.
However, it will be up to local districts and cities to fluoridate their own well water, if they want to keep their total supplies up to the optimum level of fluoride.
Cities that are already fluoridating will be able to cut back on their programs, since part of their supplies will come pretreated, the MWD said.