The Boyne City Commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday May 13 to stop adding fluoride to Boyne City’s municipal water supply.
The commission made the decision following an hour-and-a-half of discussion that included taking comments from laymen, doctors and public health officials.
“The city commission has recently raised questions about fluoridation in the public water system,” said Boyne City Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dan Meads, who had been charged with gathering and presenting commissioners with information regarding fluoride in general and the city’s history with fluoridation—which goes back to 1973 when it was approved by voters 295 to 148 on Nov. 6. [EDITOR’S NOTE: According to the city’s charter, a vote of the people on a city matter cannot be reversed by the city commission for six months after the initial vote. Ergo, the 1973 vote was fair game.]
Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch and Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer were the two “no” votes.
“The organizations that oppose water fluoridation are few, very few,” Neidhamer said, adding that the credentials and credibility of those who support fluoridation far outweighs those who oppose it. “I cannot, in good conscience, disregard the professionalism and the knowledge and expertise of our local experts, national experts, Michigan experts.”
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne said he studied both the pros and cons of fluoridation and said it all comes down to the issue of choice.
“It seems it would be hard to control over-dosage,” he said. “If there is a chance fluoridation can cause any health problems, my choice is not to have it in the water.”
Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord—who initiated the de-fluoridation effort—said it is easier for those who wish to use fluoride to obtain it through toothpaste, mouthwash and other products than it would be for those who do not wish to use it to find alternative water sources.
“When we look at a topic such as this, I tend to fall back on one of my core beliefs and that is individual responsibility and personal choice,” he said, adding that all comments he received were against fluoridation.
Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom said she has a chemical sensitivity and has taken many courses at University of Berkeley in California on toxins and hazardous environmental affects on the human body.
“When it comes to fluoride and the type of fluoride we put in our water system, which is a chemical byproduct, a chemical hazard, a toxic waste hazard, and even in minute amounts it accumulates in the body,” she said, adding that fluoride does help prevent tooth decay but is destructive of bone tissue.
Sansom added, “I’m opposed to ingesting anything that is a toxin, even in a small amount. I do think we need the freedom of choice to not have it in our water if we do not want it there.”
Sansom said the number of products that contain fluoride are vast enough to ensure access to those who want it.
Grunch said he truly believes it is a mistake to stop fluoridating the water.
Sansom made the motion, seconded by Gaylord, to immediately stop fluoridating the water.
Just before the vote, Neidhamer reiterated his disbelief that the commission would ignore the advice of health professionals.
Also prior to the vote, Meads told the commission and dozens in attendance that fluoridation in Michigan is voluntary, and that the process was closely monitored and tested daily. He said most major health and dental organizations are “strongly in support” of fluoridation.
“Recent availability of fluoridated toothpaste, mouthwash and some other products has raised questions as to whether the public is getting too much fluoride and if there would be any potential health risks,” Meads said. “In response to those concerns, the CDC did a review of the … dosage and in 2011 issued a recommendation lowering the dosage in water from 1.1 milligram per liter (of water—also known as 1.1 parts per million) to .7. As the new lower limit was being considered, I discussed the issue with the city manager as to whether we should continue fluoridation.”
He added, “The concerns I had at that time were how low the new limits might become and whether we could meet that with our equipment. The new limit was ultimately established at .7 milligrams per liter/parts per million and we’ve had no problems maintaining that limit.”
According to Meads, Boyne City has a naturally-occurring fluoride level of .35 milligrams per liter of water in the north well field, and a .15 milligrams per liter natural level in the south well field.
“There’s naturally-occurring fluoride in most of the water in the state,” he said.
Meads said many of the communities in the area—including East Jordan, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, Elk Rapids and Traverse City—add fluoride to their water systems. Municipalities that do not add fluoride include Petoskey, Gaylord and Kalkaska.
Meads said Petoskey does not fluoridate its water because it has sufficient natural levels.
A drum of fluoride costs $225. The city uses four to five drums per year, making the annual cost of the fluoride itself roughly $1,125. Equipment, testing and labor costs bring that up to a yearly total of $2,500 to $3,500.
• Dr. Joshua Meyerson, a pediatrician and the Medical Director of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, spoke in favor of continuing the practice.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions and a lot of fears about fluoride—fluoride is not a medication. We are not adding medicine to the water,” he said. “Fluoride is naturally-occurring, it’s a mineral, it’s a nutrient, it’s something that you need to some extent. It’s found in groundwater and it’s found in nature naturally all over the world.”
Meyerson said that, like other substances, fluoride can have adverse health effects if it is used in too great of doses but can reduce tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent when properly used.
Meyerson said the dental screenings provided at area schools show obvious differences between areas with recommended levels of fluoride in the water and those without.
“How many of those kids have enough disease in their mouth to be referred to a dentist?” Meyerson said. “In Gaylord, where there’s no fluoride in the water, they have a 28 percent referral rate. In Mancelona, where there’s no fluoride in the water, they have a 30 percent referral rate. Pellston, where there’s no municipal water supply, they have a 23 percent referral rate.”
He added, “In East Jordan and Boyne City, where there is fluoride in the water, the referral rate is eight percent. That’s a huge difference.”
Meyerson said adding fluoride to the water is no different than adding folic acid to bread or adding vitamin D to milk.
“For every dollar that we spend on water fluoridation we estimate that that saves $38 in dental costs,” he said.
Meyerson ended his comments thusly: “I urge you, when you consider what to do here, to base your decision not on fears, not on what you read on the internet or what someone says, but what is the sound research.”
• Dr. Tom Veryser, a public health dentist, who operates 22 clinics that serve at-risk children, said people who are not medical experts don’t have a clue about the issue of oral health.
“I’m talking as a person who treats this disease, sees it every day, deals with the suffering,” he said… “And, to deny the opportunity for wellness … is just plain a mistake.”
Veryser, who has been a dentist for 44 years, said the controversy over fluoride seems to spring up every eight to 10 years.
“I encourage you to keep it up,” he said. “And, if you don’t, I feel sorry for your children and grandchildren, who will suffer as a result.”
• Mitchell Heick, a lifelong resident of the Boyne area said he uses well water and does not add fluoride to it, though he does not know if there is any naturally-occurring fluoride in it.
“My teeth are good,” he said. “I’ve brushed every day of my life. My grandpa was a dentist … so he taught me really good dental hygiene.”
He said a Harvard study showed elevated fluoride levels caused lowered IQ in children.
“I think it causes neuro-toxicity and I think it’s a big big problem to leave it in the water supply,” he said. “I don’t think forced medication of the public is a good idea at all. If they want to protect their teeth they can brush with a fluoride toothpaste, they can go to their dentist more often.”
He added, “You shouldn’t put what is proven to be a poison into the public water supply.”
• Boyne area business owner Joshua Grove said he wanted the fluoride taken out of the water, and that it is a byproduct from the manufacture of chemical fertilizer.
He read from the material safety data sheet which explains the warnings for exposure to the pure form of the substance. The warnings included that it could be harmful or fatal if swallowed and be corrosive to skin.
“Now, one part per million may not seem like much but what we’ve done is we did the math and … if you drink, over your lifetime, on average about 14,600 gallons, one part per million essentially equals two ounces (of fluoride),” Grove said. “So, eight ounces is a cup of water, for example, so two out of eight—that’s quite a bit. You wouldn’t want to drink that. You’d most likely die, get extremely sick.”
• Boyne resident and Executive Director of the Charlevoix Area Humane Society Scott MacKenzie told Grove that if he had too much water he would drown.
“My point is here, what Josh was talking about—with all due respect—the reports that he was saying was in too much quantity. If you’re talking about large volumes, it’s corrosive,” MacKenzie said… “We are talking about a health benefit for our community.”
• Justin Weisler said he is most concerned with the lack of choice people have.
“We’ve got plenty of choices in the products we choose to have fluoride,” he said, asking whether area students receive fluoride treatments in school. “We just had somebody that lives outside the city limits with good oral hygiene. Again, I don’t feel that there is a one hundred percent study either way, pro or con, for fluoride.”
Weisler added, “I feel that drinking it is not necessary.”
• Dr. Richard Fish, who had a family medical practice for 38 years, said when he came to Boyne City in 1964, tooth decay was rampant.
“It was incredible,” he said. “After fluoride was added to the water, I became part of a study and we examined all of the elementary kids every year for decay—it’s literally non-existent in these young kids now.”
Fish said the decay they do see comes mostly from people who come from places outside the city.
“I’m not going to win this battle with the people that are opposed to fluoride,” Fish said… “I would question the study that was done in China, that’s the (country) that’s putting Tupperware in the food.”
Fish said the distinction that no one has made is that tooth enamel is quite tough and resistant to absorption through topical fluoride treatments.
“The application of topical solutions does reduce decay—it gets in the pits and fissures (of teeth),” he said. “The ingestion of fluoride in the water is actually combined with the phosphorous and the calcium ion as the tooth is made.”
Fish said the claims that fluoride is corrosive at undiluted concentrations are also true for the chlorine which is added to water to sanitize it.
“If you’re going to do away with the fluoride in the water, you might as well do away with the mumps vaccine, the measles vaccine, small pox vaccine—all these other vaccines that are certainly more innocuous to the body,” he said…
“Here we have in our hands the greatest public health tool that’s ever been devised, and we have 60 years of experience.”
• Dr. Jennifer Larson, owner and operator of Park View Family Dentistry of Boyne City, said she feels a lot of the opposition to fluoridation is well-intentioned but stems from flawed science driving fear and misinformation.
“We have the benefit of scientific, properly conducted research that is … not swayed by personal biases or opinion,” she said, adding that she had looked into the Harvard study and found elements of it taken out of context.
“The studies looked at were done in China and they didn’t adhere to the research protocols and study designs and double-blind the controls—things that make a study valid and results that are meaningful,” Larson said.
• The MDEQ District Engineer who oversees the application of fluoride to Boyne City’s water said fluoride is added in precise doses that are constantly monitored.
• Boyne City Main Street Program Manager Hugh Conklin—who spoke as a citizen of Boyne City—said he drinks city water, and was confused as to why the discussion was even occurring.
“I look at the list of goals that the city should be doing here and I don’t see fluoride anywhere on here,” he said. “And I’m just kind of wondering, was this an appropriate discussion? Do you feel comfortable now making a decision as a city commission listening to the science and listening to these people? Do you really feel that’s your role to be doing this?”
Conklin added that the time used to discuss fluoride could have been spent addressing issues more important to the city.
• Ben Hansen, representing the group Fluoride Free in T.C., said a similar discussion is taking place in Traverse City.
“I just can’t sit here and listen to doctor after doctor after doctor—supposedly educated persons—standing here saying fluoride is natural. That is so deceptive,” Hansen said.
• Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said people who don’t live through the problems and the history of issues like rampant tooth decay, pre-fluoridation, are bound to forget them.
“I completely support his (Meads’) recommendation with regards to maintain fluoride in the city’s water system,” he said. “We are a low and moderate income community. A lot of our residents don’t have access to the high level of dental care that a lot of these professionals are providing.”
Cain added, “I think it’s good that people are having a discussion with regards to it but I think, when opinion is taken as fact, I think there’s real problems ahead.”