The Wellington Village Council reinstated water fluoridation after an almost four-hour public forum on Tuesday that included dentists and pediatricians speaking in favor and members of the Fluoride Action Network speaking against.
The village started fluoridation in 1999, but it was discontinued in 2014.
The forum started off with fluoridation opponents alleging that they had not been properly noticed of the format of the meeting. Village Manager Paul Schofield said staff had properly advertised the meeting on May 25, but no specific invitations had been sent to advocates on either side of the debate. He said they had received a response from the Fluoride Action Network on May 31.
Naomi Flack of Palm Beach Gardens, with the Fluoride Action Network, told council members that they had not been told that a representative would be able to speak for 15 minutes. Mayor Anne Gerwig said that all the meetings had been public, including discussion of the format for the hearing.
About 40 people spoke, who were about evenly divided for and against fluoridation.
Village Engineer Bill Riebe led off the discussion with a staff presentation, noting that it was essentially the same as the one made by staff in 2014.
Riebe reported that research on fluoride began in the early 1900s. In the 1930s, researchers discovered that low levels of fluoride reduce tooth decay. In 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first community to fluoridate drinking water.
By 2013, 70 percent of the U.S. population was receiving fluoridated drinking water.
The village evaluated its fluoridation program between 2000 and 2014 and reported no adverse health effects, but in 2014, the council discontinued the program in a 3-2 decision. “It was thought to be in the best interests of public health at the time,” Riebe said.
He said fluoride naturally occurs in Wellington water at 0.2 micrograms per liter, and is present in the village’s finished water at about 0.12 micrograms per liter.
The hydrofluorosilicic acid that was used in the village water is mined in Florida and certified by the National Science Foundation, he pointed out.
“It’s pretty toxic stuff in pure form,” he said, adding that it is used in very small amounts. “We know how to handle it safely.”
He added that the process is carefully monitored by the Palm Beach County Health Department and the Florida Environmental Protection Agency. The recommended amount is from 0.5 to 0.68 micrograms per liter. The level would be monitored every two to four hours, and the process automatically shuts down if the level exceeds the limit.
Riebe said anti-fluoridation advocates talk about arsenic that occurs naturally with fluoride, but the level is well below the dangerous level, and is below detectible levels in the finished water.
He pointed out that the American Dental Association and Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S Department of Health & Human Services and numerous other health organizations all strongly recommend fluoridation.
Riebe said that six Palm Beach County utilities, including Palm Beach County and the City of West Palm Beach, about 50 percent of the population, receive fluoridated drinking water, and all of Broward County receives fluoridated water.
The cost to fluoridate would be about 63 cents per person per year, he said.
Riebe also pointed out that opponents claim that fluoridation causes a variety of adverse health effects, including increased risk for cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis and bone fracture, immune disorders, low intelligence, renal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease or allergic reactions.
Riebe said that the staff recommendation would be that fluoridating is a benefit to public health and would recommend restoring it, which he said was his recommendation in 2014 when the council discontinued it.
Rodney Wollman of Wellington, representing anti-fluoridation advocates, said he was happy in 2014 when he found out he would no longer have to buy bottled water.
“It’s time for everybody to wake up because what I have to say, anybody who’s spent any time and did their own research, you’re talking fluoride, you get millions of articles, there’s thousands and thousands of sources, and let me tell you, I can’t think of anything more horrific that’s going on in this country today.”
He claimed that fluoride is a toxic industrial waste taken from smokestacks and sold to be put in the water.
“It was sold under the premise originally for children under the age of 14 to reduce their cavities, however, they cared so much about your teeth, that they just care so much and love you so much that they load this toxic waste in bags with skulls and crossbones in your water and then tell you it’s good for your teeth,” Wollman said, asserting that fluoridation is an inexpensive alternative to disposing of toxic waste.
He went on to say that 40 percent of teens show signs of fluorosis, or mottling of the teeth, and fluoride is a main ingredient in roach and rat poison, was used in Nazi concentration camps, and is the base ingredient in sarin nerve gas.
He continued that health organizations have been paid millions of dollars to incentivize the use of fluoride in drinking water. “Everything I say is totally documented,” he said. “[Fluoride] is not a pharmaceutical, but a contaminant.”
Dr. William Staten, lead dentist with the Palm Beach County Health Department, expressed a strong commitment to fluoridation as a safe and economical means to reduce tooth decay along with good oral hygiene, a healthy diet and regular dental visits. He also pointed out that 60 percent of low-income populations have tooth decay by age 7, which includes some patients from Wellington.
Dr. Johnny Johnson, president of the American Fluoridation Society, pointed out that although topical applications of fluoride are available, including in toothpaste, fluoridated water is the only way to get it inside the teeth where it is more effective. He added that severe fluorosis is rare and only occurs among children under 8.
“There is no debate; there are no adverse health effects,” he said. “No respected health organization opposes fluoridation.”
Dr. Lawrence Grayhills of Wellington, representing the Academy of General Dentistry, said it is hard to refute that fluoridation has been one of the most effective health preventative measures, comparable to the polio vaccine.
“As a practicing dentist, I see dental decay every day,” he said. “I urge you to replace fluoride in our water supply.
Council members discussed some details of fluoridation, but generally supported the reintroduction into village water.
Councilman Michael Napoleone asked about quality controls, and Riebe assured him that it is not fertilizer runoff or scraped from the insides of smokestacks. It is produced in Florida and certified in independent labs.
Napoleone displayed a 4-inch stack of papers that he and the other council members had received, saying he had read them all carefully.
“I do feel after studying this, I’m still not scientist or chemist, but I’m prepared to make an informed decision,” he said.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said her brother spent his early years in Germany, where water was not fluoridated, and still has terrible problems with his teeth.
“Knowing this could have been prevented is disturbing to me,” Siskind said. “I seriously believe reinstating fluoride is doing what we are charged to do, which is to protect the residents of Wellington.”
Councilman Michael Drahos said he appreciated everyone who had come to speak, but resented what he felt were some speakers’ attempts to manipulate the outcome.
“I have a keen sense of gamesmanship,” he said. “When they say they were unaware, it is playing with facts. I can tell you that at the last council meeting I said I would speak with anyone.”
Vice Mayor John McGovern said that although it was a difficult issue, he was prepared to make a decision.
“I think we have really listened tonight and thought about this,” McGovern said. “Tough decisions are made here to protect the community at large and to protect those most at risk.”
Mayor Anne Gerwig said she was proud of the council and the community about their conduct that evening.
“It is a difficult issue,” she said. “When we took it out of the water, it was a different kind of meeting. We did not have as much discussion. This is not an argument of this council against anyone. It is an argument about science.”
McGovern made a motion to reintroduce fluoride into the village’s water system. It carried unanimously, 5-0.