In the end, it came down to the science. And there’s a lot of it.
On Aug. 26, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners voted to continue its practice of community water fluoridation.
That decision was not entirely unexpected. Denver Water has been regulating fluoride in the water since 1953, but board members said they took opposition to the policy seriously and requested a review of the latest science from the foremost national and local authorities to inform our policy.
Fluoride naturally occurs in many of Denver Water’s supply sources. We add fluoride as necessary to achieve an average concentration equal to the target recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Earlier this year, opponents of water fluoridation began appearing at Denver Water board meetings, urging commissioners to end the practice. In response, the board held a fluoride information session on July 29 and encouraged public input. Many individuals and organizations submitted comments and reference documents.
“We are just trying to educate people on this issue,” said Greg Gillette, a spokesman for We are Change Colorado, a group urging Denver Water to stop adding fluoride to water. “We hope everybody has an open mind.”
After reviewing the presentations, the extensive research on this issue, and the advice of public health and medical professionals in Colorado, the board announced there would be no change in its water fluoridation policy.
The resolution the board adopted at its meeting stated: “Nothing we heard through the presentations or learned in research would justify ignoring the advice of the public health agencies and medical organizations or deviating from the thoroughly researched and documented recommendation of the U.S. Public Health Service.”
Denver Water Commissioner Greg Austin went on record saying, “After careful consideration of the information put forth by both sides of the fluoridation debate, I am convinced that the community water fluoridation level recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service provides substantial health benefits, and is a safe, cost-effective and common sense contribution to the health of the public.”
The research on fluoridation is quite extensive. Here’s a sample of what board members and Denver Water staff reviewed:
- The work of the Federal Panel on Community Water Fluoridation. This group of physicians, epidemiologists, environmental health experts, dental professionals, toxicologists, statisticians and economists re-examined water fluoridation levels.
- In 2011, the U.S. Public Health Service published a proposed recommendation based on the conclusions of that panel.
- The Public Health Service then received thousands of comments opposing community water fluoridation, raising the same categories of objections as those submitted to Denver Water at our public forum and during the public comment period.
- The Panel did not identify compelling new information to alter its assessment that fluoride levels of 0.7 milligrams per liter provide the best balance of benefit to potential harm.
- In May 2015, the Public Health Service issued its final decision document, adopting a recommendation to change to a single target fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter.
- Letters, documentation and personal stories from public and professional health organizations and medical professionals supporting the continuation of community water fluoridation. Notably, every public health agency operating in our service area urged us to continue our practice of managing fluoride concentrations in our drinking water.
Commissioners also noted that if Denver Water stopped managing fluoride levels, our customers would still be drinking fluoridated water.
“But the levels would vary significantly, creating an imbalance throughout our service area,” Denver Water Commissioner Penfield Tate said. “Community water fluoridation provides dental health benefits across all socioeconomic communities in a predictable and uniform manner.”
“Community water fluoridation is a public health action, which by definition protects the health of the population in general, and sometimes conflicts with individual choice,” said Denver Water General Counsel Patricia Wells. “Those who object to fluoridated water do have alternatives, such as nonfluoridated bottled water or in-home filtering systems.”
With their decision, the commissioners said they were relying on experts who bear the responsibility to protect the health of the public. Community water fluoridation provides health benefits to all our customers, at all stages and ages of their lives, regardless of their access to health care or their adherence to healthy living guidelines.