The Pinellas County Commissioners voted 4-3 to stop fluoridating tap water for some of the county’s residents. The decision is expected to save the county approximately $205 million per year, but it has angered health advocates who claim the lack of fluoridation will harm dental health and cost county residents far more in higher dental bills.
Fluoride has been included in the county’s tap water since 2004. The 2004 vote to add fluoride was highly contentious, as was the October 2011 vote to remove it for many residential water customers.
St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Dunedin, and Belleair will continue to receive fluoride-treated water.
Health, Environment Debate
Fluoride opponents claim the additives harm the environment and endanger public health. Very few local governments agree, with most public water suppliers in the nation continuing to add fluoride to tap water.
“Fluoride has proven to be safe for humans and the environment,” countered Heartland Institute senior fellow Jay Lehr.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree fluoride is safe and effective. According to the CDC Web site, fluoride is a natural mineral found in nearly all naturally occurring bodies of water. Fluoride is nature’s way of removing certain bacteria that cause tooth decay by helping to “remineralize tooth surfaces” and prevent the formation of cavities, according to the CDC.
“Even today, with other available sources of fluoride, studies show that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent over a person’s lifetime,” the CDC Web site explains, adding community fluoridation saves money: “For larger communities of more than 200,000 people, it costs about 50 cents per person to fluoridate the water. It is also cost-effective because every $1 invested in this preventive measure yields approximately $38 savings in dental treatment costs.”
Says He’s Keeping Open Mind
Not all in Pinellas County believe water fluoridation is necessary, however. County Commissioner Norm Roche voted to stop adding fluoride to the water. Nevertheless, Roche told Environment & Climate News he will keep an open mind and if future data convinces him of the necessity to treat public water supplies with fluoride, he will vote accordingly.
Roche says he found the entire debate fraught with inaccurate reporting, and he said the media fueled an uneducated discussion among residents, health officials, and government authorities.
“There has been a great deal of misinformation put forth by certain media outlets about what exactly occurred,” said Roche.
“From my perspective,” Roche wrote in a letter he sent to several newspapers in Florida, “no reasonable public health debate is, nor ever should be, considered ‘over’ when dealing with a public drinking water supply. Any error—human, scientific, or otherwise—in the scientific and chemical management and treatment of our public drinking water supply has the potential to impact the lives of 700,000-plus residents in Pinellas within just four hours.”
Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.
“Community Water Fluoridation,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/