A group of protesters brought their concerns about fluoride to OWASA’s meeting Thursday, even though no one was there to listen.
Fluoride Free Chapel Hill/Carrboro members had planned to petition against fluoride at the Orange Water and Sewer Authority’s board of directors meeting. The meeting was canceled Aug. 10 when OWASA staff told the board there wasn’t any reason to meet on Aug. 24.
The fluoride critics showed up anyway to oppose OWASA’s plan to restart fluoridation of Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s drinking water.
The policy is medicating people without their consent and is adding a harmful neurotoxin to the water, the critics said. They cited suspected effects, such as lower intelligence, thyroid and bone damage, arthritic symptoms, cancers and reproductive problems.
Corey Sturmer began researching fluoride after experiencing dental fluorosis: damage to tooth enamel caused by too much fluoride. OWASA has an agenda, he said, and doesn’t want to hear from critics or change its policy.
“Psychologically, people have been hit over the head for 50 years with the idea that this is good for you, so our biggest challenge is getting the people to really recognize how significant this is,” Sturmer said.
The utility stopped adding fluoride in early February when equipment and human errors put too much of the chemical in the water at the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant. OWASA officials said the overfeed never left the plant. A water main break soon after cut service for nearly 24 hours to 80,000 customers.
OWASA’s board voted this spring to keep adding fluoride to the water once the plant’s equipment and safety measures are upgraded. The fluoride feed will start in late September, said Todd Taylor, general manager of operations. They will notify the public before it begins, he said.
Taylor noted the OWASA board has heard from fluoride critics before. “I can’t really speak to how vocal they had been,” he said, when asked if OWASA knew about the group’s plans for Aug. 24 before canceling the meeting.
In the water
OWASA pays roughly $25,000 a year to add fluorosilicic acid, one of the three most common fluoridation compounds, to its water. Other fluoride options are sodium fluoride – common in toothpaste – and sodium fluorosilicate.
The fluorosilicic acid is a co-product of Unimin Corp.’s quartz materials mining and production operations and, according to the company’s records, is harmful if swallowed, inhaled or comes into contact with skin. It’s diluted before being used in public water supplies. An 8-ounce glass of OWASA tap water – 237 milliliters – contains 0.17 milligrams of fluoride, officials said.
While most groundwater supplies contain at least some level of natural fluoride, communities have been adding it to public drinking water since 1945 to prevent tooth decay. Nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population had fluoridated drinking water in 2012, although some communities have dropped the practice.
The Environmental Protection Agency took a fresh look at fluoride in its December report because of information about the potential effects on teeth, bones and cancer. EPA officials also considered the growing public exposure to fluoridation from other sources, including commercial beverages, food and dental products.
The report concluded fluoride was a low priority compared to other issues and left the recommended level for drinking water at 0.7 milligrams per liter. However, EPA and health officials acknowledge the research into fluoride’s health effects is limited.
Taylor said there will be another opportunity for public comment at the board’s Sept. 28 meeting. While there aren’t any plans to revisit the policy, he said, the board can talk about OWASA policies anytime or the staff could bring it up if state policy or federal rules change.
Fluoride critics are just trying to have a dialogue with OWASA, Daria Barazandeh said, and want to give their experts and supporters an equal opportunity to be heard. Since OWASA has ignored their petitions, they plan to go to the Chapel Hill and Carrboro town boards this fall, she said.
“What we really want is for them to have a fair look at this, because they’re not having a fair look at it,” she said. “All they’re doing is getting information from the (UNC) Dental School and saying, well, the CDC says this and the ADA says that. Those are endorsements; that’s not scientific evidence.”