November 28, 2014

Au Gres council discusses fluoridation benefit, feasibility

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Au GRES — The Au Gres City Council discussed potentially fluoridating the city water supply during its meeting March 5, but ultimately reached no decision on the matter.

Each member of the city council had researched the topic, but questions still remained on whether or not it would be worthwhile for the city to pursue it.

Mayor LaVern Dittenber stated his opposition to adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, noting that he opposed it when it originally came up in the 1960s. He said his research indicated that countries in Europe are opting out of requiring that their water be fluoridated.

“I think if someone wants it, maybe fluoride toothpaste is a better deal than giving it out across the city,” he said.

Councilman Tom Ennes had the opposite viewpoint, however, noting that the Centers for Disease Control recommends fluoridating water supplies, and the U.S. government and the past five surgeon generals have all supported it. He said that according to the state of Michigan’s website, 92 percent of all municipal water supplies in the state fluoridate water and have found it safe for the past 65 years.

Dental hygienist Lisa Wiltse, who brought up the issue in February’s meeting and returned again to answer any additional questions, said it is important to make sure information comes from scientifically backed clinical studies, such as those put out by the CDC and American Dental Association. Those studies back fluoridating water supplies, showing that it can help reduce the decay rate of children’s teeth by up to 40 percent, she said.

Wiltse added she had no information about European countries dropping fluoride requirements, but said she would look into it further for the next council meeting.

Councilman Larry Malace said the reports he found definitely made it sound like a good deal for children, though not quite as effective for older people.

“What I see are a lot of benefits to children, but we’re looking at a retiree city,” Malace said. “I don’t know that there are many youngsters here in my opinion.”

Councilman Keith Edmonds said the Au Gres-Sims School District is a customer for the city, and the kids there drink city water. Additionally, he said some of the city’s water customers live in the country but are still city customers. Edmonds expressed reservations, however, adding that he wanted more information about fluoride health benefits and potential risks, as well as storage and handling at the water plant. He said while he liked its benefits for children, he wondered if there was a link to autism as well.

Storage and handling at the water plant were a major sticking point for Dittenber as well. City Manager Pat Killingbeck said she was not certain the water plant is large enough to store fluoride, and she had heard reports that in its concentrated form, it can be caustic.

According to information from the Standish water plant, the fluoride there is typically stored in plastic drums and measured out to .8 parts per million. The plant does not store it in any specialized manner, but drums are only opened in well-ventilated areas to deal with the fumes it can give off.

While Wiltse said she can apply for a grant that would cover the cost up to $20,000, Killingbeck said if the city needs to remodel the plant it would cost much more than that.

“I don’t think that it is advantageous if we do this for the small percentage of the population that would benefit,” she said.

Wiltse said she would also look into requirements at the water plant, and would try and meet with Standish’s water plant staff, as that city has introduced fluoride into its system. If the Au Gres plant needs to be remodeled, she said she would not expect the council to take any action on the issue.

Edmonds asked whether the issue should be put up before the public in a ballot initiative, but Dittenber said he is not sure that is the appropriate way to go.

“The voters would be the city’s population, but because of (the school), it should be up to us to make the decision,” Dittenber said. “Not that I want it.”

Councilman Cliff Warr said that if the council does find fluoridated water feasible and ultimately supports it, they will be responsible for further educating the public about the advantages and assuaging their concerns.

The matter of fluoridation is expected to appear on the council’s agenda for their April 9 meeting.

According to the American Dental Association, drinking water with an optimal amount of fluoride is known to reduce cavities and tooth decay by anywhere from 20-40 percent. The Centers for Disease Control considers it one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century, and an estimated 72 percent of the U.S. population served by public water systems gets fluoridated water.

Wiltse told the Independent in February the addition of fluoride would be beneficial to people of all ages, but primarily children, as the fluoride helps strengthen their teeth as they come in. It particularly has an impact on lower socio-economic groups, she said, who are not able to get dental care as often as recommended.

Additionally, she said that fluoride, when added to drinking water in the mandated amounts, is safe for human consumption. She explained that, much like chlorine, which is a mandated addition to drinking water, it is only toxic in large amounts.

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