HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs commissioners struggled to get to the root of whether the City should be fluoridating water for residents.

While water in the town is currently fluoridated to a level of 0.42 parts per million, well within federal public health guidelines, Commissioner Eric May initiated discussion of the elimination of the additive to the Sept. 22 meeting. He said he heard concerns from citizens about the issue.

Mayor Larry Travis said he also received citizen requests.

“My concern,” he said, “is that we're putting this chemical in the water that people don’t want.”

University of Florida senior water treatment training specialist Ronald Trygar gave a presentation before the commission supporting the removal of fluoride. He said he is not against people having healthy teeth, but the benefits of fluoride are not enough to outweigh the risks.

He said High Springs has naturally occurring fluoride already, helping to protect the teeth of the residents. Trygar explained that too much fluoride exposure leads to fluorosis, causing white spots to appear on teeth.

As a water treatment trainer, he quoted the manual he uses to teach his classes.

“It is important to avoid overfeeding,” he said. “It can cause illness and bad public relations. The operator must pay close attention to maximum dosages.”

He said a monitor must be installed at the water treatment facility to notify staff if over fluoridation occurs. If the dosage goes above the maximum, the water system must be shut down and completely cleaned. Public health officials have to be notified.

The commission is uncertain if such a monitor exists, and operators are only required to be present for three hours a day at the facility.

Trygar said that many other products are commonly available with fluoride in them. Pulling out a box of toothpaste, he pointed to a warning label.

It said that one should call poison control if excess product is consumed. He said this was because of fluoride, a chemical listed in his manual as dangerous for ingestion in its pure form, leading to corrosive burns in the mouth and digestive tract.

He also explained that the Department of Health suggests that parents do not mix infant formula with tap water because of the danger of fluorosis.

Upon questioning by May, Trygar explained that while the maximum level of fluoride suggested was lowered to 1.2 parts per million, there is no required minimum level. It’s an elective process, he said.

He also said that the process incurs costs the town does not pass to consumers. The high cost of water service in High Springs has become a major point of contention in the commission race.

However, Trygar said, “You’re probably undercharging for the amount of water you produce. Don’t yell at me for that, but it’s true.”

May said the cost is not the issue.

“It would save us about $3,000 a year to eliminate fluoridation,” he said. “That’s not something we’re going to jeopardize public health over.”

Dr. Scott Tomar, professor at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, said the practice of fluoridation is not only crucial to protect the oral health of the city’s most vulnerable citizens, but it is the most cost-effective way of doing so.

“It’s one of the few public health measures that not only prevents disease but actually saves money,” he said. “It saves approximately $40 for every dollar spent.”

He explained that fluoridation strengthens the teeth of those citizens unable to afford sufficient dental care. He said children and adults living in fluoridated communities experience less tooth decay.

“Not only is it effective, but it’s safe,” he said. “It’s not really a controversy because these questions have been asked and answered. The World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Agency, they all recommend it.”

Paul Meyers, assistant director of the Alachua County Health Department, called fluoridation “one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century.”

Gainesville was the first city to fluoridate its water in Florida, starting the practice in 1949. Meyers said the action is based on peer-reviewed, solid science.

Newberry and Fort White do not fluoridate their water, while Alachua does.

Local resident Pat Rush said the town must trust the experts. He said he spoke to a dentist about the issue.

“He told me, ‘If we took out the fluoride in the water,’” Rush said. “‘I’d have three times as much business.’”

Commissioners admitted that there was a great deal of information on both sides of the issue. They decided to postpone their vote about fluoridation until they found out whether the water treatment facility had a monitor.

Commissioner Dean Davis said this precaution must be in place, or fluoridation has to be discontinued.

“If there’s any chance a baby could die, it’s not worth it,” he said