Columbia Board of Health subcommittee discusses fluoridation of drinking water

Fluoridation and fluorosis are concerns among Columbia citizens.
Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer

A Columbia Board of Health subcommittee on water fluoridation discussed whether to change the level of fluoridation in drinking water during its meeting Thursday.

Fluoride naturally occurs in drinking water, but more is added in order to help improve dental hygiene, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Fluoride's recommended amount was lowered from one milligram per liter to .7,” said Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light spokeswoman. “Of that, .3 is naturally occurring. This area has a lot of naturally occurring fluoride.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Human Services have separate standards for how much fluoride should be allowed in water. According to the CDC, the EPA set the standard of fluoride at 4 milligrams per liter to prevent the risk of too much exposure to fluoride. The HHS set the limit at .7 milligrams per liter to prevent tooth decay while avoiding fluorosis.

Fluorosis was one of the bigger concerns among Columbia residents during the meeting. Fluorosis is a cosmetic issue in which white specks become visible on teeth and is often brought on by too much consumption of fluoride.

Kevin Gamble, a Columbia citizen and father of two, argued it is unfair for the city to medicate people without their permission or acknowledgement of personal information.

“All of you here tonight are deciding whether to prescribe an unmanaged medical treatment to someone you have never met,” Gamble said.

Lori Henderson, a board-certified pediatric dentist and public policy advocate for Missouri American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, said Columbia should not change public policy based on one or two articles.

“We have policies based on good data,” Henderson told the subcommittee. “It is hard for me to believe that we would not put fluoride in water, especially in hard-hit areas like low-income areas.”

Lower income areas were a concern for both sides of the argument. Some in favor of putting fluoride in water argued lower-income areas rely on the city’s water for fluoride, while others said fluorosis is a problem due to high fluoridation levels.

“What I am here for are those low income people that do not have cavities,” said Bethany Baillargeon, a dentist from the Jefferson City Community Health Center. “I believe they don't because they live in a city and drink city water.”

The amount of fluoride dispersed is another concern among Columbia citizens.

“By adding this to the water, we cannot control how much people are getting," Columbia citizen Dan Redmond said. "That is the problem here.”

The average amount of baseline fluoride since last August is .24 milligrams per liter, Michael Anderson of Columbia Water and Light said. After treatment, it typically has .7 milligrams per liter. It has sometimes peaked to .82 milligrams per liter after treatment, Redmond said.

The subcommittee is holding off on its decision until its next meeting.

MU runs its drinking water separately from the city of Columbia and has it regulated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. According to the 2011 Annual Water Quality Report, the fluoride level ranges from .8 to 1.29 milligrams per liter.

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