A commission that studies water issues in Durango will discuss further reducing or even eliminating fluoride in the city’s drinking water.
Jim Forleo, a Durango chiropractor who has been leading local efforts to eliminate fluoride use in water, said he hopes to encourage city officials to take a fresh look, given new guidance and studies.
“They haven’t done the research; they haven’t looked,” Forleo said of governments that support fluoride in drinking water. “They’re just kind of following the same route from others that have preceded them.”
The city’s Utilities Commission will consider Forleo’s proposal at a meeting as early as the end of the month. It will be the first time the commission tackles the issue in about a decade, according to members of the group. What’s discussed could lead to City Council action.
“What is the right amount of fluoride? Nobody’s coming out and telling you exactly what that is,” said Steve Salka, utilities director for the city. “We need to be smart about what we do. Have we given the public too much? We’re doing the right thing by making sure that our Utilities Commission is going to readdress this.”
The city lowered its fluoride dosing from 0.9 milligrams per liter to 0.7 milligrams per liter May 6. Officials responded to federal health regulators, who in April changed the national fluoride standard for the first time in more than 50 years. The standard dropped from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, to a set concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter. Officials say 0.7 milligrams per liter is like a drop of fluoride in a 55-gallon drum.
Colorado health officials also updated their recommendations on the subject to reflect a maximum concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter, acknowledging that people receive fluoride from a number of sources these days, including toothpaste and mouthwash. Fluoride is also naturally occurring in some water systems, including in La Plata County.
“The reason it’s really coming up is there’s fluoride in other places now ... whereas when they first introduced fluoridation, there were not as many ways,” said David Brendsel, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Bob Wolff, a member of the Utilities Commission, said it’s an appropriate time to discuss the issue given recent actions by federal and state health officials. The City Council has received several appeals from residents asking to remove fluoride from the city’s water.
“It seems pragmatic to revisit that sort of thing periodically to see what’s new; what’s changed relative to scientific collection,” said Wolff, who added that his son once had dental fluorosis, a disturbance of enamel caused by too much fluoride. “It just seems the trend is downward. We should pay attention to trends.”
Some Colorado communities have already opted out of using fluoride, including Durango’s neighbors Telluride and Pagosa Springs.
The state health department, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper, issued strong support last week for using fluoride in water, ahead of a meeting by the Denver Water Board, where the topic was discussed. The board said it will make a decision by Aug. 26 on whether changes are needed, signaling that the issue has hit a tipping point across the entire state.
“The Governor’s Office and Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) recommend all Colorado communities fluoridate their public water supplies,” read a joint statement by Hickenlooper and health officials. “More than 70 years of research has proven that community water fluoridation is a safe, effective and inexpensive method of improving the oral health of all Coloradans.”
Supporters say communities that fluoridate water can reduce cavities by as much as 40 percent and save an average of $61 per year per person in dental costs for an investment of just $1 to $2 per person per year.
But critics point to fears, suggesting that the fluoride that is used is the result of waste products from fertilizers. They are skeptical of research that shows that fluoride continues to reduce cavities in children. Some even point to a 2012 Harvard University study that found that children who live with highly fluoridated water have “significantly lower” IQ scores.
“They don’t care about you,” said Cathy Justus, the Pagosa Springs-based spokeswoman for the Fluoride Action Network, which focuses on possible impacts to animals. “The science is out there. The government is just not looking.”
For his part, Forleo is encouraged that Durango officials are at least discussing the issue.
“People are actually looking at it,” Forleo said. “In the past, it was somebody, some higher-up, saying it’s good for you, and no one ever looked into it. People are questioning things now more than ever.”