Fairhope debates use of fluoride in drinking water

By GUY BUSBY
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 7/15/22

FAIRHOPE — City officials are studying the addition of fluoride in the Fairhope water system after decades of use.The Fairhope City Council had been scheduled to vote Monday, July 11, on an …

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Fairhope debates use of fluoride in drinking water

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FAIRHOPE — City officials are studying the addition of fluoride in the Fairhope water system after decades of use.

The Fairhope City Council had been scheduled to vote Monday, July 11, on an ordinance to stop using fluoride. After a discussion during the work session before the meeting, council members removed the ordinance from the agenda until they could get more information on the issue.

The chemical has been added to water systems in the United States since the 1940s to prevent tooth decay, according to reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fluoride strengthens teeth and prevents their decay, the report said.

Fluoride, however, is also dangerous for water system workers to use and can damage pipes over time, Fairhope officials said.

Mayor Sherry Sullivan said some systems in Alabama have stopped adding fluoride. She said local residents have also questioned Fairhope's use of the chemical.

"People say it's harmful to your health and different things, and people are pulling it from their water system," Sullivan said. "I don't think there is probably strong evidence that it's detrimental to people's health or it would not have been in there for so long."

She said the city spends about $30,000 a year on fluoride but also must use other chemicals that have to be added to counter the acidic effects of it on city pipes.

Jason Langley, city water and sewer superintendent, said some systems in Alabama have stopped using fluoride, but others have continued.

"Two of the oldest systems in the state that started fluoride, the first two are Florence, Alabama, and Jasper, Alabama. Jasper stopped it in 2016. I was a part of that," Langley said. "Florence still uses it, so it's 50-50. So, you can talk both sides, the advantages of it and the disadvantages. The rate that it's fed has changed drastically in the last 20 years. We feed roughly half of what we used to because it has been determined that high doses can lead to Alzheimer's and several other diseases, so we've cut back."

He said workers also have to take precautions when using the chemical.

"It is a safety issue for our guys, but they're trained, and they've not had any issues with it," Langley said.

Councilman Jack Burrell said the chemical is dangerous for workers but that adding fluoride helps consumers.

"I realize fluorine gas can be dangerous. It's a fuel. I've actually been burned by it personally," Burrell said. "I think the way we handle it here, is these guys have been trained and it's relatively safe to use."

Burrell said the council discussed stopping the addition of fluoride about eight years ago. At that time, Dr. Barry Booth, a Spanish Fort dentist, told the council that the CDC considered adding fluoride to drinking water one of the 10 greatest medical achievements of the 20th Century.

"Some European countries took fluoride out of their water. There was a study in Scotland that showed that once they took the fluoride out of their water their instances of tooth decay went up over 100% in their population," Burrell said.

Councilman Corey Martin said about 75% of Alabama water systems continue to use fluoride.

"I don't see why we would pull ours," he said. "I just don't see that weighing to remove it. I just don't see the benefit at all."

Councilman Kevin Boone said that unless the city has information showing that fluoride is a health hazard for consumers, he did not favor removing it from Fairhope water.

"I would just prefer to leave it there," Boone said. "Unless I could see some numbers from a reliable source that says this is a problem, I don't see why we need to fool with it. I do see the numbers, the information where it is beneficial for the health of your teeth."

Councilman Jay Robinson said he would like to study the issue and learn why some systems have stopped the use of fluoride.

"I'd want to know why, was it Florence or Jasper, took it out of their water," Robinson said. "I'd want to know what some of the other municipalities have done, why they chose to make that decision. What information they used to determine that and just sort of work it that way, but it sounds like there's arguments on both sides and I just want more information."

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