Palmer to stop adding fluoride to city's public water supply

6-1 VOTE: Supporters say topical treatments, toothpaste do the job.

Anchorage Daily NewsOctober 30, 2011 

Palmer has decided to follow the lead of Fairbanks, and stop adding fluoride to its water system.

The Palmer city council voted 6-1 Tuesday to forbid addition of fluoride to the public water system.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adding fluoride to community water systems, and considers fluoridation of drinking water to be one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

Fluoride, a mineral, reduces tooth decay.

Deputy Palmer mayor and councilman Richard Best, who supported the ordinance, said some dentists now say with fluoride available in toothpaste and in topical dental treatments, "We're pretty much getting covered."

Plus the Palmer water system has naturally occurring fluoride in it, he noted.

There was little controversy over the decision, said Best.

One of the Palmer system's three wells naturally contains the nationally recommended amount of fluoride, 0.7 parts per million, but the bulk of the water going to Palmer residents contains only about 0.2 parts per million, said Tom Cohenour, Palmer public works director.

Cohenour was in charge of investigating the fluoride issue for the administration, which backed the decision to stop adding fluoride.

He went into it open-minded, Cohenour said. "Through investigating, I realized there are moral concerns, ethical and then safety," he said.

"What I found is that application of fluoride to the teeth is most effective," said Cohenour. "Why should we add fluoride to the whole body?"

A study that a committee of highly educated people -- four Ph.Ds, a dentist and a medical doctor -- produced for Fairbanks last spring was most convincing, Cohenour said.

The Fairbanks Fluoride Task Force met periodically over a year's time before concluding, in an April report, that Fairbanks should not add fluoride. Its prime reasons: Fairbanks water naturally contains 0.3 parts per million of fluoride, and "higher concentrations put non-nursing infants at risk."

Contrary to that statement, the CDC Web site says, "Scientists have found a lack of evidence to show an association between water fluoridation and a negative impact on people, plants, or animals."

The Fairbanks task force report said it's unknown how a reduction in fluoride will affect the level of tooth decay in Fairbanks residents.

The Fairbanks City Council voted in June to quit adding fluoride to city drinking water.

Juneau ended the practice of fluoridating drinking water in 2006.

Anchorage still adds fluoride. The last time the issue came up in Anchorage was in 1991 and 1992, said Anchorage Assemblyman Dick Traini, who also served during those years. The issue stirred considerable controversy, Traini said.

One lady felt so strongly about it that she told the Assembly she bathed in bottled water, he said. When she used tap water she felt fluoride leaching into her, he said.

Unlike some cities, Anchorage has no naturally occurring fluoride in its public water, said Craig Woolard, director of the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility.

Traini voted to continue fluoridating Anchorage water back in the '90s.

Assemblywoman Harriet Drummond earlier this year asked AWWU for information on the cost and status of fluoridation in Anchorage.

She was responding to a constituent's concern, she said this week.

"We are medicating people whether they need it or not," she said. But she hasn't decided whether to raise the issue at the Assembly.

"If I get a lot of public support, I will consider pursuing it," she said.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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