Council set to discuss fluoride in water

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council will discuss water fluoridation in Iowa City’s tap water at tonight’s work session.

After being named one of the most important public-health achievements by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some local residents still feel their drinking water should be left alone.

“It makes me feel a little uncomfortable knowing that things are being added to my water that I have no control over,” said University of Iowa sophomore Iva Zdilar.

UI officials have joined in the debate over fluoride in local drinking water, which is added to prevent tooth decay.

The university’s Utilities and Energy Management Water Plant monitors the levels of fluoridation in campus drinking water regularly, said David McClain, a UI water-utilities engineer.

“There is no reason to remove fluoride at this point,” he said. “Things that are added are there to protect the water and the people.”

The university’s drinking water comes from the Iowa River and takes eight to 12 hours of processing before reaching water fountains and faucets across campus, McClain said. In that time, fluoride is added at a rate of 1.1 to 1.2 milligrams per liter — below the 4 milligrams per liter maximum considered safe by the CDC. The water plant also adds chlorine, which acts as a disinfectant.

UI Associate Professor Teresa Marshall, an oral-health specialist in the College of Dentistry, said she votes to keep fluoride in tap water because those who ingest it regularly are not threatened.

“You would die of water intoxication before reaching the dangerous level of fluoridation in the body,” she said. “We’re talking someone consuming gallons of water daily.”

Steven Levy, a UI professor of preventive and community dentistry, said the fluoride saves people money on dentistry costs.

The approximately 2.5 million Iowans who are exposed to fluoridated water are getting one of the most effective dental treatments, he said.

According to the CDC, Iowans could save around $200 million in dental care over 15 years with fluoride use.

“There are a lot more ways to get fluoride nowadays that didn’t exist decades ago, such as certain toothpastes,” Levy said. “But the fact remains that some people can’t afford dentists nor do they clean their teeth the way they should.”

Marshall admits there are cosmetic problems associated with fluoride intake — such as yellowing of the teeth — but said most are minor in relation to the benefits seen.

“Slight discoloration is nothing compared to having rotten teeth,” she said.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. today to discuss the issue.

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