SOUTH BEND — The Health Department may soon stop testing for sulfate and fluoride in St. Joseph County drinking water – a practice that health officials call a waste of time and money.
Sulfate and fluoride have both been analyzed in water for years and thousands of measurements taken, according to a proposal from the board of health to the County Council, but never have any of the levels exceeded acceptable standards.
In fact, health officials say, not only has no local measurement ever approached federal limits, but none has ever even been more than half the recommended federal guidelines.
“Our levels are so low,” said Marc Nelson, environmental health manager for the St. Joseph County Health Department. “There has not been one abnormal case.”
Sulfate is found in soil sediments and rocks and occurs in the environment because of natural and human-related processes. Ingestion of high levels can cause short-term stomach illnesses, according to health research.
Fluoride is a common mineral occurring naturally in soil, rock, and most groundwater. Too little fluoride prevents proper tooth development in children, which is the reason all municipal drinking water systems in St. Joseph County add fluoride to their drinking water, along with many schools.
But too much fluoride can cause bone diseases and serious damage to teeth.
Groundwater in St. Joseph County, has always contained very little fluoride, Nelson says, because the sediments are often flushed out naturally.
At the most recent Board of Public Health meeting, the group approved ceasing testing for sulfate and fluoride. The proposal now goes before the County Council.
Eliminating the testing means the public will save close to $110,000 a year, Nelson said.
Water will still be tested for other minerals and substances, including E. coli, nitrates, arsenic, coliform and chlorine.