A law with teeth
Fluoridated water remains a touchy subject in Reno
For the first time in nearly 50 years, the federal government announced this month it plans to lower the recommended limit for fluoride in water supplies. Yet, in Reno, the water has never been fluoridated—an issue that remains contentious.
“Fluoride has been, throughout the country and this area, one of the more volatile water quality issues,” says Paul Miller, Truckee Meadows Water Authority manager of operations and water quality.
A bill to fluoridate local water in order to improve dental care and prevent cavities among residents was shot down by the state Assembly in 2009. Part of the reason was financial: At the time, TMWA estimated it would cost about $5 million to start fluoridation and about $1.5 million a year to continue it. That would also raise water bills by about 40 to 75 cents a month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64 percent of Americans drink fluoridated water. Yet, the idea has not been popular in Reno.
“There are people who are very strong proponents of fluoride,” says Miller. “They say it’s for the betterment of the population and kids who need better tooth care. The American Dental Association strongly advocates fluoride. … But a lot of people don’t want fluoride. The strongest, most common argument is people don’t want this forced upon them. They don’t want—I don’t want to call it medication—this constituent in the water.”
Yet none of that is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is lowering the recommended limit for fluoride to 0.7 milligrams per liter down from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams, or why the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing whether its maximum level of 4 milligrams per liter is too high. Nor is the decision linked to conspiracy theorists’ fears that fluoridated water is a government ploy to control minds. Rather, the issue is fluorosis.
Fluorosis is a splotchy tooth condition. The CDC reports that nearly 23 percent of children ages 12 to 15 had fluorosis in 1986 and 1987, compared to 41 percent between 1999 and 2004.
In deciding to lower the limit, the feds considered that, compared to the 1940s, when water fluoridation was first introduced in the United States, water is now only one of several sources of fluoride, such as toothpaste and mouth rinses.
Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in water and soil, even in non-fluoridated places. On the 2008 annual water report from TMWA using 2007 data, fluoride levels were listed at 0.14 milligrams per liter. Miller said 0.3 milligrams per liter of fluoride was detected at one well in 2008, but that represented only half a percent of the area’s total drinking water. The report didn’t even list fluoride because it wasn’t detected in the 2009 data. Miller added that the highest level for fluoride he’s ever seen from a single well in the area is 0.4 milligrams per liter.
“We sample sources during the course of the year, and we’re required to report the highest concentration detected from any single source. In any year, our largest source of drinking water—about 85 percent of it—was from the Truckee River. The Truckee River has been non-detect for fluoride.”