Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about fluoride in the water of Mount Pleasant.
The Mount Pleasant City Commission’s decision to temporarily reduce the amount of sodium fluoride added to the municipal water supply has not gone without controversy.
Some of the commissioners themselves disagree with the decision.
“I think when the people voted to put fluoride in the water, they wanted it in a proportion that will reduce tooth decay,” Vice Mayor Bruce Kilmer said. “I think we should take it back to a vote of the people and not (reduce fluoride levels) on our own.”
However, Commissioner Kathleen Ling, head of the Fluoride Task Force that made the recommendation to the commission, emphasized the commission’s decision was within the boundaries of the 2005 fluoride ballot language.
The 2005 ballot language regarding fluoride levels states, “the Commission by resolution shall have the authority, from time to time, to change the proportions thereof.”
Ling said she assumes the amount of fluoride added to the water supply will be temporarily reduced from 0.7 parts per million, or milligrams per liter, to somewhere between 0.4 and 0.5 ppm. Mount Pleasant’s natural occurrence of fluoride in the water is 0.4 ppm.
Water fluoridation has been a hotly contested issue for the city commission and Mount Pleasant voters for years, Ling said.
In 1997, voters decided to continue adding sodium fluoride to the water supply.
In 2003, a petition circulated requesting the city commission change the way the water plant operates. However, the commission refused to include the proposal on the 2003 ballot because the petitioned language, if voted in, would have violated state and federal regulations by preventing the addition of required compounds used to render water safe and clean.
The petitioners took the City to Circuit Court, where the judge ruled the ballot language could be revised and placed on the ballot in 2004.
Fluoride supporters felt the ballot language was not precise on the 2004 ballot, but the ballot passed, stating any substances added to municipal water must first be approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, which has not approved sodium fluoride for ingestion.
“The people who supported fluoride felt the 2004 ballot proposal did not make it clear that people were banning fluoride,” Ling said.
As a result, another petition was formed in 2005 forcing the fluoride issue back to the ballot, this time to put fluoride back in the water.
The 2005 fluoride vote passed, requiring the total amount of fluoride in the municipal water to equal 1 ppm, which falls within the American Dental Association’s recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 ppm.
However, in March 2006, just four months after the vote passed, the National Research Council released a report which said the Environmental Protection Agency needed to do a reassessment to determine what level of water fluoridation would protect all individuals exposed to the water. The NRC report detailed several adverse health effects that may be linked to the ingestion of fluoride, including dental and skeletal fluorosis, bone cancer and adverse neurological effects.
The task force
The commission voted to wait for the ongoing EPA study to be concluded before considering increased water fluoridation.
Shortly after the release of the NRC’s findings, the ADA announced in November of 2006 fluoride should not be mixed with reconstituted baby formula and infants should not consume fluoridated water.
As a result, Mayor Jim Holton requested the formation of a fluoride task force to investigate and research the effects of fluoride ingestion.
“Year after year we get information pro and con for adding fluoride to our water system,” Holton said. “To help put this issue to bed, or attempt to, I asked Commissioner Ling if she could develop a committee to study the pro’s and con’s of fluoride and report back to the commission so we could become better educated on the subject.”
Holton and Ling said the fluoride decision ultimately rests in the hands of the voters.
“This is a temporary recommendation,” Ling said. “From the beginning the assumption of the task force has been that if we ultimately recommend to end fluoridation all together, that we would ask the city commission to put it on the ballot. Before a final decision is made, this will be voted on.”