City fluoridation decision questioned by state, local officials

Sarah Petersen, IDPH Water Fluoridation Coordinator, talks with Tama Council regarding their decision to eliminate fluoride from the water at Monday’s council meeting. Allison Graham/News Chronicle

The City of Tama has been operating their water plant without fluoride for the past two months. The decision to eliminate fluoridation was recommended by Water Superintendent Kent Campbell. Campbell had presented information to the council at the April 5 meeting and in a split vote the council approved eliminating fluoride. Council members Larry Thomas, Matt Beatty, Anne Michael voted in favor of eliminating fluoride. Emily Babinat voted against removing fluoride. Aaron Haughey was not present.

Now that decision is raising concerns at both the local and state level.

Representatives from the Iowa Department of Public Health, iSmile, a faculty member from the University of Iowa, and a representative from Tama County Public Health attended Monday’s council meeting to ask the council to reconsider the decision.

Fluoride is a mineral that exists naturally in lakes, rivers, groundwater and other water supplies. Usually the concentration of fluoride is too low to prevent cavities which is why many U.S. communities choose to fortify their water with additional fluoride. According to the Center for Disease Control drinking fluoridated water reduces cavities by 25 percent over a person’s lifetime.

Sarah Petersen is the Community Water Fluoridation Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Public Health. Petersen attended the meeting and said fluoridation has many benefits and few risks, particularly in a lower socioeconomic area such as southern Tama County. Petersen said not only is fluoridation effective, it is also safe. Water fluoridation is also supported by over 100 national organizations.

“Studies continue to show even with the advancement of dentistry, that fluoride products such as toothpaste and community water fluoridation is still proven to prevent at least 25 percent of cavities in both children and adults,” Petersen said.

Petersen went on to say that the conclusion of every major health organization in the United States acknowledges that water fluoridation is safe.

“Almost all fluoride concerns are in areas of the globe with much higher concentration than communities would find here in the United States. There is a lot of misinformation out there that is not based on any studies that have been peer reviewed and are scientifically known to be true,” Petersen said.

According to Petersen, community fluoridation benefits everyone in the community, regardless of a person’s age, race or socioeconomic status.

“By discontinuing water fluoridation, your most vulnerable populations are at risk for tooth decay because they are found to be most likely to have cavities and also not be able to access dental care and also toothpaste containing fluoride and fluoride treatments you would receive at a dentist,” Petersen said.

The City of Tama would fall under the umbrella as a vulnerable population because the poverty rate of Tama sits at 15.5 percent, which is higher than that state rate of 11.2 percent.

Over 50 percent or roughly 900 children aged 0-14 last year on medicaid, did not receive any dental service in Tama County.

Dr. Steve Levy, a University of Iowa faculty member, also spoke in favor of water fluoridation.

Levy partly moved to Iowa from New Jersey because of the appeal of Iowa’s tradition of fluoridated water. Around 90 percent of Iowa communities have fluoridated water according to Levy.

Levy has been able to do research about the amount of fluoride individuals get all the way from birth to age 25. He followed a group for all those years called the Iowa Fluoride Study/Iowa Bone Development Study. What the research showed was that there were no adverse health effects on developing bone structures from imaging of developing skeletons from age 5-23.

“Those who are fortunate to go to the dentist, who have a good diet, whose parents have instilled good behavior; most of those kids will be okay because they have good habits. Those in most need, including the least educated, the lower SES, the folks who have one or two or three family members sharing a single home, are really the ones who will be hurt the most,” Levy said.

Fluoridation also helps adults and older adults, according to Levy. That information wasn’t discovered until the late 1980’s and 90’s according to Dr. Levy.

The recommended fluoride level for communities adding fluoride to their water to prevent tooth decay is 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter with the overall goal being 0.7 however water systems can vary day to day. The DNR requires cities to test the raw level every 3-9 years. After fluoridation was removed a request was made by the IDPH to the city of Tama but at this time the IDPH has not received any results.

Legislation was passed that would require water systems to notify consumers and IDPH with oral health 90 days prior to making any decisions with fluoridation in the water. That goes into effect July 1.

Looking at surrounding communities, in Toledo fluoride is not being added to the water. The reason being according to Public Works Director Kendall Jordan is Toledo has a really deep well which naturally produces fluoride. According to Petersen Toledo’s previous testing showed the city has 1.2 milligrams per liter.

The same cannot be said for Tama regarding their wells. Tama actually has really shallow wells of only 80 – 200 feet compared to Toledo’s well which is 2000 feet underground.

The council took no action at Monday’s meeting. Mayor Doug Ray said they would look at the information.

In other council business

•Caleb Peshel and Justin Peppers were approved as Ambulance volunteers

•Downtown outdoors seating was discussed. Tama County Economic Development Director is assisting the council with this project.

•Guidelines for the Community Trailer were discussed. No decisions were made.

•The next meeting will be July 6 instead of July 5 due to the holiday.

•Transfers were completed