Debate over fluoride in public water supplies surfaces again in Elgin
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN September 4, 2013 5:36PM
Stephen Page and Eric Olsen work in the control room of the Riverside Treatment facility in Elgin. Employees monitor the water 24 hours a day and apply the proper treatment as conditions warrant. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2013 12:35PM
ELGIN — An issue that sparked debate back in the 1960s has resurfaced.
And while no one appears to be claiming today — like some did 50 years ago — that it’s part of a communist plot, at least one local elected official wants to take another look at the widespread practice of adding fluoride to public water systems.
Councilman Terry Gavin recently said he would like the city council to have a discussion about the use of fluoride in Elgin’s water supply.
Gavin said he had a few supporters who brought the issue to his attention during his campaign for office earlier this year.
“After winning the election, several more people contacted me about this issue — both those I knew already and those I didn’t know,” Gavin stated in an email. “The interesting thing to me was that there were people from both sides of the political spectrum, liberals and conservatives, wanting me to pursue this issue.”
Gavin said information he has looked at online “tells me that it’s very possible that fluoridation of municipal water supplies may cause more harm than good to humans and animals. This issue has also started serious discussions in many communities all over America, and many European countries have banned the use of fluoride in their drinking water.”
“While reviewing this matter I decided it would be beneficial to our citizens to explore the pros and cons of the removal of fluoride from our water treatment facilities,” Gavin added. “My mind is open, and I hope that others on the council will look at the research before making up their minds.”
Any attempts to remove fluoride from Elgin’s drinking water most likely would involve a change in state law. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health website, “legislation mandating the fluoridation of all public water supplies in the state was passed in 1967 and signed into law July 18 of that year.”
“Community water fluoridation is still the most equitable and cost effective public health measure to protect teeth from decay and to improve oral health for both children and adults. Studies have shown that, for every dollar invested in fluoridation, as much as $38 is saved in dental treatment costs,” the site states.
Others weigh in
At this point, council support for removing fluoride from Elgin’s water appears to be middling, at best.
Councilman Rich Dunne noted the state requirements and said that even if Illinois law could be changed, he is in favor of keeping the water fluoridated.
“It’s been approved as being safe by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) HHS (Dept. of Health and Human Services), CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and NAS (National Academy of Sciences),” Dunne said. He added that to change his mind on the matter would require “peer reviewed studies showing it not to be safe.”
Mayor Dave Kaptain said, “I am not in favor of discontinuing the addition of fluoride to drinking water. It is a low-cost means of helping control tooth cavities. Fluoridation of drinking water has been called one of the 10 most important health initiatives of the 20th century by the CDC and is endorsed by a number of medical organizations. Until they change their opinion on the value of fluoride in drinking water, I will continue to support fluoridation.”
Kaptain, who worked for the Fox River Water Reclamation District, said that the fluoride level mandated by the state is “one of the easiest to control. The amount of fluoride used is controlled by feeding a very stable fluoride compound into the water and then monitored using very reliable test procedures.”
“I have never heard of any health issues related to fluoride use in the Elgin area or any other area for that matter,” he said.
Councilwoman Tish Powell said she has done cursory research on the matter and has found more information in favor of keeping fluoride in the water than in removing it. Councilwoman Anna Moeller noted the role fluoride has played in fighting cavities.
When asked if she would be in favor of not adding fluoride to Elgin’s water, Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger responded that she would “need to study that issue before I would feel comfortable answering.”
Councilman Toby Shaw said water fluoridation is a topic worth having a conversation about to educate people about its true impacts. Shaw mentioned a study he had read about linking fluoride to issues with child development and learning.
Councilmen John Prigge and John Steffen could not be reached for comment.
A Harvard School of Public Health study of studies published in July 2012 and done in conjunction with China Medical University about possible links between fluoride and IQ level is chief among Internet-based fluoride controversies.
A piece posted by northwest suburban Chicago osteopath Joseph Mercola on the Huffington Post Jan. 28 claims the report “concluded that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have ‘significantly lower’ IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.”
One example to be found questioning Mercola’s take is a Slate Magazine piece from Feb. 11. The article also notes that Mercola’s website claims vaccines are associated with conditions such as autism and that homeopathy treatment offers the best hope for a cure for that malady.
The Slate piece explains that the Harvard study was “a systematic review and meta-analysis of 27 studies, and it found that kids exposed to high levels of fluoride are nearly twice as likely to have low IQ scores as are unexposed kids. But 25 of the studies were conducted in China (the other two in Iran), a highly pertinent fact considering that water is not fluoridated the same way there as it is here. Much of China’s water is heavily contaminated with fluoride (when this happens in the U.S., the chemical is reduced to a safe level); some children in the studies were consuming nearly three times the EPA’s limit. And in two of the studies, the kids weren’t getting fluoride from their water at all: They were inhaling it from coal burning.”
“Just like most everything else, fluoride probably isn’t all bad or all good. There may well be a cavity-fighting, intelligence-conserving sweet spot. I just hope my local water utility has found it,” the article concludes.
Mercola was profiled by Chicago Magazine in February 2012. The article said his website draws close to 2 million unique visits a month through which he has sold millions of dollars worth of alternative health treatments and dietary supplements, sales of which have been chastised by the FDA and the Better Business Bureau.
Kyla Jacobsen, city water director, said it costs Elgin about $30,000 a year to fluoridate its water supply. Jacobsen noted that Elgin is regulated to provide a fluoride level of 0.9-1.0 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. The maximum contaminant level for fluoride is 4.0 mg/L.
“The Fox River has about 0.20 mg/L and our wells have around 0.45 mg/L naturally occurring,” Jacobsen said.
She said that to the best of her knowledge, there are no studies that have not been repudiated or called into question that point to health concerns for humans by putting fluoride in drinking water.
“And every dentist I know — and I know quite a few — thinks fluoridation in drinking water is wonderful,” she said.
Fluoridation of municipal water supplies has been going on in Illinois and across the nation since at least the 1940s and met some of its most vocal opposition in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was linked by some to a communist conspiracy. In recent years, the matter has once again grabbed headlines.
In May, by a 60-40 margin, voters in Portland, Ore., overturned a city council edict from 2012 and decided they did not want any more fluoride added to what occurs naturally in its water to bring it to levels that are thought to be effective in fighting tooth decay. Portland is the largest city in the United States not fluoridating its water.
In April, the Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize prize for 10 editorials published in 2012 critical of the Pinellas County Commission deciding in late 2011 to stop fluoridating its water. After the editorials ran, two commissioners who favored the stoppage were voted out of office and were replaced by two who favored fluoridation. Fluoride has since been added back to the water supply.