Concerns mount over fluoridation
Steve Raulerson carries bottled water with him everywhere he goes. He doesn't do it just to stay hydrated. He's more concerned about what he believes is poison in the water in Canton, Clyde, Lake Junaluska and Waynesville.
Without any thought, many Haywood residents drink fluoride-injected water on a daily basis. According to the Fluoride Action Network, 87.6 percent of North Carolina's public water supplies are fluoridated, which has been a standard practice for 60 years.
The practice of adding fluoride to municipal water supplies was introduced to prevent tooth decay. Many, including the federal government, believe fluoride's benefits outweigh its dangers to the community. Others aren't even aware that they're ingesting the potentially poisonous additive every time they drink water from the tap.
The issue is not a new one. While the debate has raged in the dental and medical community since the 1940s, fluoridation has continued in many towns and cities — and in Haywood County. Only Maggie Valley doesn't add the chemical.
The Oral Health Division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) touts fluoridation as "one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century."
But a recent study by professors at Harvard University classified fluoride as a neurotoxin possibly linked to autism, bringing it to the forefront of discussion once again.
With a background in environmental water quality and having held dual licenses in drinking and waste water in the early 90s, Raulerson has done his own research on fluoride. After hearing about the recent findings, he is even more convinced it's time to rid our water of fluoride.
"You can bury your head in the sand for so long, but as more and more data comes out that says this is not a good thing to be injected into our drinking water, you won't be able to ignore it anymore," he said.
Fluoridation in Haywood
Canton was among the first towns in the state to begin injecting fluoride into the public water supply, said Scott Flushing, head of the town's water filter plant department.
Though fluoride is a naturally occurring element that appears in water in low levels, the additive in water is a byproduct of phosphate fertilizer.
Canton purchases a liquid form of fluoride called hydrofluorosilicic acid that is injected into the water supply at .80 parts per million, which amounts to about 40 pounds per day said Nicholas Ferguson, an employee of the filter plant. One part per million could be compared to about one penny in $10,000.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the maximum contaminant level for fluoride is 4 parts per million. At that point, those drinking the water over many years could develop bone disease and discolored teeth in children called dental fluorosis. Prolonged exposure could lead to arthritis and reduced thyroid function.
"I believe they said that if people drank 10 glasses of water a day for 10 years, one in 100,000 might have a problem with fluorosis at the maximum amount of 4.0," Ferguson said.
North Carolina requires municipalities that fluoridate keep the amount at 1.0 parts per million or lower.
About every second, a small bit of fluoride is pumped from a 55-gallon drum that is located in a concrete room connected to the outside of the Canton filter plant that is simply labeled "fluoride."
Each year, the town spends about $12,000 to purchase fluoride for injection and about another $12,000 on the equipment to test fluoride levels daily, Ferguson said.
Flushing said about eight years ago, he approached the board of aldermen and suggested the town stop fluoridation to save money and for health reasons. He has made the same suggestion every year to the town manager before the new budget planning begins, but the town continues to purchase fluoride year after year.
Marcy Onieal, town manager of Waynesville, said the town has been injecting fluoride in Waynesville water for at least 30 years, though she is not sure the exact year it began. The town injects fluoride in the targeted range between .65 and .75 parts per million.
Waynesville takes their stance on fluoridation from the North Carolina Public Water Supply, which says, "The goal of fluoride treatment is to add enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay while avoiding the unwanted health effects from too much fluoride."
"At some point some board decided this was a worthwhile enhancement to the water supply," Onieal said, adding that "there has never been a serious opposition to it."
If there was strong opposition to fluoridation by the public, she said the matter would need to come before the board of aldermen and would likely require studies and public hearings.
The Junaluska Sanitary District purchases their water supply from the Town of Waynesville and the Town of Clyde purchases their water from Canton, meaning the water of both of those towns is also fluoridated.
Maggie Valley is the only municipality in the county that does not fluoridate its water.
Even after spending 25 years working with water, Neil Carpenter, district manager of the Maggie Valley Sanitary District, said fluoridation remains one of the most debated subjects in the industry. But after careful and thorough research over the years, his department has always decided against fluoridation.
"We see through the medical industry that for children up to 18 it's beneficial, but when you get past 18, it starts affecting bone density," Carpenter said. "Our population we serve up here are more older folks than young and our board of directors and myself have never been convinced that there's enough benefit from it."
His department's position is that the public has access to fluoride in other ways and it's not needed in the water supply.
"Years and years ago fluoride was a wonderful thing, but we see now with toothpaste and better dental hygiene education that we all take better care of our teeth," Carpenter said.
Professionals weigh in
Dr. John Highsmith, a dentist in Clyde, says there's no doubting the benefit fluoride has when it comes to preventing tooth decay in children.
"Pretty much anyone will tell you there is less decay on kids' teeth now than in communities that don't have fluoride in water," he said.
Though fluoride is helpful, many young people ruin the benefits by drinking multiple soft drinks a day and eating too much sugar, he added. And even if fluoride were eliminated in local water, he said many other products, such as juices, contain fluoride because they are manufactured in areas with fluoridated water.
The American Dental Assocation considers fluoridation the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. It compares fortifying water with fluoride to adding Vitamin D to milk or folic acid to bread and cereals.
But Michelle Sanderbeck, a doctor of naturopathy and owner of Be Well Western Carolina, a holistic and natural wellness facility in Waynesville, said fluoride is toxic even when it's just used to brush teeth.
"Any time you get fluoride in your system it shuts your thyroid down for six hours, so it creates havoc on all of the body," she said.
New research published this year in The Lancet, a peer reviewed journal from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, identified fluoride as one of six industrial chemicals as neurotoxins. It links fluoride to mental disorders, autism, ADHD and even lowering children's IQ levels.
That's when Raulerson said he began calling town halls almost daily asking them to cease fluoridation, but without any success.
"Poison is poison, I don't care what you're talking about," he said.
Taking a stand
Regardless of the benefit to children's teeth, Raulerson says there's no place for fluoride in the water system. With the availability of fluoride in toothpaste, he believes that fluoride should be an individual choice and not the decision of local government.
"Toothpaste is each person's personal choice…you have no choice with the water coming out of your tap. We are being forced to drink fluoride. We're being forced to drink poison," he said.
In the late 90s, the Federal Drug Administration required warning labels be placed on toothpaste containing fluoride telling consumers that if swallowed medical help should be sought. It also states that children under 6 should only use a pea-sized amount and be supervised while brushing.
"There's enough fluoride in one tube of toothpaste to kill a small kid. That's how toxic it is," Raulerson said.
Finding toothpaste that doesn't contain fluoride in stores is next to impossible, he said. Instead of toothpaste, he uses baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to brush his teeth.
"I swear my teeth are cleaner and whiter than they were with toothpaste," he said.
He wonders why the federal government warns against swallowing fluoride in toothpaste, yet encourages fluoridation.
Raulerson is not against water additives that are necessary, such as chlorine.
"Chlorine is different, it's a disinfectant. It's injected in the water to keep micro-organisms from multiplying and thriving within the system. Chlorine has a definite use in the water system. Fluoride has none," he said.
Fluoride, on the other hand, is meant to treat the people drinking the water and not the water itself.
"I just believe we've got the best water in the world and I think all of us citizens should be dead against injecting anything into it, fluoride being number one," Raulerson said.
And removing fluoride from the water is difficult. There are certain types of water filters that can remove about 90 percent of fluoride. Water distillation is the most effective and most expensive measure to remove fluoride, with units costing anywhere from $200 to $1,000.
Raulerson says he would like to be able to go to Waynesville and enjoy a pint of beer from his favorite breweries and not have to worry about what's in the water.
His goal is to raise awareness about fluoridation and hopes to rally concerned people in the community to put an end to it locally.
"There's only one solution and that is to turn it off," he said.