Water fluoridation deadline nears for Malibu

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Residents express alarm as the deadline nears for fluoridation of Malibu’s drinking water.

By Ruth Lundi / Special to The Malibu Times

Some residents are in an uproar over the Metropolitan Water District’s decision to begin the process of adding fluoride to Malibu’s and Topanga’s water supply beginning Oct. 7, and some Malibu residents, questioned in a random sampling, had no idea that their water is about to be fluoridated.

State law signed in 1995 by former Gov. Pete Wilson mandated that all public water supplies with at least 10,000 customers be fluoridated. The law did not provide funding to public utilities, so several water agencies held off fluoridation. However, under pressure from local public health officials, the MWD board made the decision in 2003 to fluoridate Southern California’s tap water. The MWD received a $5.5 million grant from the California Dental Association Foundation, in conjunction with the California Fluoridation 2010 Work Group, to cover the capital costs of planning, designing and purchasing equipment to begin the process of fluoridation. Although Malibu receives its water from Los Angeles County Waterworks District 29, the district purchases all its water from the West Basin Municipal Water District, which in turn purchases its water from the MWD.

Fluoridation opponents say studies raise concerns about the safety of ingestion of fluoridated water on certain segments of the population, most notably infants and children, who ingest more tap water. They believe that implementation of the fluoridation program should be delayed in order to further study the effects of fluoridation on “at risk” members of the public.

The National Research Center released a comprehensive review on March 22, 2006 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards regarding fluoride levels, which stated that the current accepted standard should be lowered to reduce the risk of skeletal fluorosis, a bone disease caused by excessive fluoride consumption, and bone fractures. In addition, an April 2006 Harvard study established a link between a rare bone cancer in adolescent boys and fluoride ingestion.

Dr. David C. Kennedy, past president of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, stated, “Water fluoridation delivers a drug to infants that if prescribed by a doctor would be gross malpractice.”

Fluoridation supporters say these claims are inflammatory and untrue, and that fluoridation is perfectly safe and has been the topic of unprecedented favorable research over the last several decades.

Dr. David F. Nelson, MS, fluoride consultant to the Office of Oral Health, California Department of Health Services, states that “over 60 years of use and thousands of credible peer-reviewed studies tell us that community water fluoridation is safe,” and fluoridation is universally supported by all major U.S. health organizations and that none have withdrawn their support of fluoridation as a result of the NRC and Harvard findings.

After reading an in-depth article in the Topanga Messenger, activist and Malibu local Valerie Sklarevsky became concerned. She pointed out that 95 percent of toothpaste not only contains fluoride, but a warning label with instructions to call a poison control center should accidental ingestion by children occur. She said she feels it’s a contradiction for the government to tell us fluoride is safe if products containing it are deemed poisonous.

Malibu resident Cindy Emminger agrees. She would like to see the fluoridation process stopped altogether. Emminger questions the safety of the fluoride additive, hydrofluosilicic acid, itself. “People with diabetes, kidney problems or AIDS, and especially babies and children are at risk for side effects” from the use of fluoride, Emminger said. “Water consumers cannot be expected to know the risks.

“What makes me mad is that they are putting something in the water that doesn’t have FDA approval for cavities. No manufacturer of the hydrofluosilicic acid will state that their product is safe and effective for preventing tooth decay.”

Emminger said she is concerned because the studies that the fluoride supporters stand on were performed in the ’50s and ’60s, and in light of the 2006 NRC and Harvard studies, she said fluoridation bears closer scrutiny. She fears children will pay the price. “In the last fifty years, we’ve seen our children struggle with an increase in bipolar, cancer, behavior issues and learning disabilities.”

Sklarevsky agrees. “Our country is poisoning itself,” she said. “We have to be more aware of what is going on. We the people have to say ‘no.'”

Emminger said people need to ask more questions. “People ask more questions when they’re buying a car. This is going into their bodies.”

Most mainstream experts disagree.

Although it publishes specific guidelines for the preparation of infant formula to lessen the amount of fluoride babies swallow, the American Dental Association states: “Bottom line: Nothing in this [the 2006 Harvard] study should deter the public from continuing to enjoy the proven health benefits of optimally fluoridated water.”

The American Medical Association “urges state health departments to consider the value of requiring statewide fluoridation (preferably … fluoridation of all public water supplies…), and to initiate such action as deemed appropriate.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the fluoridation of drinking water among the 10 greatest public health achievements in the U.S., stating: “Fluoridation safely and inexpensively benefits both children and adults by effectively preventing tooth decay, regardless of socioeconomic status or access to care.”

In a random sample conducted at Cross Creek Shopping Plaza, most residents when questioned about the imminent fluoridation of their tap water were not aware of the MWD’s decision. However, some expressed their reservations about it.

“There’s really not enough testing done,” said Mike Nangle, father of Jesse, 5, who has autism. Because of his son’s condition, he tries to stay abreast of environmental issues. Nangle said he doesn’t think it’s fair that those who oppose fluoridation are labeled as conspiracy theorists. “It doesn’t seem like there have been many long-term studies on it.”

Malibu resident Beth Dorn adamantly opposes fluoridation. She grew up in New York City, where fluoridation had no effect on her cavity-ridden teeth. “If you just brush your teeth every day you won’t get cavities,” she said. “It all builds up and causes damage. People just don’t bother to do any research on it. People are clueless about what’s going on with health issues.”

Kay Furgurson is one resident who is not opposed to the fluoridation. “All in all, it is a good idea if it helps the teeth,” she said. “We have always had such poor teeth in my family, so I guess I’m a little sensitive on the issue.”

Malcolm Jenkins said it depends upon what kind of fluoride they are using, as all fluorides are not created equal. “I see that there is more and more being done in the city that is not in the best interests of the citizens.”

Implementation of fluoridation is scheduled to begin Oct. 7, according to Edgar Dymally, MWD’s Senior Environmental Specialist, and is scheduled to be complete by Nov. 26.