Sections

About Us

 
Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
 

Environmental Board recommends study of water fluoridation

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 by Bill McCann

Led by an environmental activist and a dentist, opponents of treating Austin’s drinking water with fluoride to fight tooth decay got a boost from the Environmental Board last week.

Sometimes considered a fringe group, fluoride opponents have appeared before the City Council and city advisory groups numerous times. Typically, they have been met with silence or indifference or both. But that was not the case at the Environmental Board.

The board voted unanimously to ask the City Council to appoint an independent advisory group to study the pros and cons of applying fluoride to Austin’s drinking water after several speakers questioned fluoride’s long-term health effects as well as its efficacy. The city could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in equipment and chemical costs if it stopped fluoridating the water, opponents said.

“Fluoride is one of the most toxic substances known,” said Neil Carman, a long-time environmental activist. It is a waste product derived from the production of fertilizer, he said. “This waste is sold as a product and put in our water supply.”

Austin has been adding fluoride to its water for 36 years and has never studied the possible adverse health effects of doing so, Carman said. People already get fluoride from such sources as beverages and food and toothpaste. By also getting it in their drinking water, they are taking in more than they need, he said.

While Carman and other speakers appeared to pique the interest of board members, it was Austin dentist Dr. Griffin Cole who seemed really to get their attention.

“I know of no science that confirms that adding fluoride to the water has any benefit at all,” Cole said. “Systemically, it does nothing for the teeth.”

“This has been a great experience for everyone on the board,” said Vice Chair Rodney Ahart after hearing the anti-fluoride speakers. Ahart then made the motion for the creation of the third-party review group to study the use of fluoride in Austin’s water.

Earlier, the board heard from Jane Burazer, assistant director of the water treatment program at the Austin Water Utility. Burazer told the board that Austin has treated its water with fluoride since 1973 following a public referendum in 1972. The utility follows “best practices” in adding small amounts of fluoride to the drinking water and meets all federal and industry standards, she said. Burazer said the utility has taken no position on fluoridation. The city would need another referendum against fluoridation or the vote of six council members to end fluoridation, she said.

As to the argument that fluoride is a waste product, Burazer told In Fact Daily: “That depends on how you look at it. We think of it as a byproduct that must go through rigorous testing and pass quality standards before we will use it.”

A review of documents on the Internet shows a large amount of sometimes conflicting and confusing information on fluoridation. It also shows that controversy over fluoridation has swirled for decades. Fluoridation has been the focus of a number of court cases, but in most instances court decisions have supported the use of fluoridation by cities.

U.S. cities began treating water with fluoride beginning in the1940s after studies indicated that low levels of fluoride in the water reduced or prevented tooth decay. An estimated 70 percent of U.S. residents who get their water from public water supplies currently have fluoridated water, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC considers fluoridation of water as one of the top public health achievements of the 20th century.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top