Commissioners hear debate on water fluoridation

Albemarle and Norwood are in charge of the county water supply

(Photo courtesy of StanlyTV)

ALBEMARLE — In a scene reminiscent of “Dr. Strangelove,” the Stanly County Board of Commissioners held a contentious debate on the fluoridation of the county’s drinking water at its meeting on Monday, March 4.

Weeks after Union County leaders declared “medical freedom” in voting 3-2 to stop adding the mineral to its Yadkin River Water Treatment Plant, Stanly commissioners heard a presentation on water fluoridation led by Union County resident Harold Schmoecker, as well as local experts on the subject.

The hearing was more informational than practical, as Stanly County began purchasing drinking water from Albemarle and Norwood in 2016, meaning those entities control adding fluoride to their respective water systems.

Adding fluoride to water has been a near-universal practice in communities across the country for generations, with three out of four Americans drinking fluoridated water from their community water systems.

The Centers for Disease and Control says fluoride in water can help reduce cavities by 25% and also reverse tooth decay, naming fluoridation of the public water supply one of the ten greatest health achievements of the 20th century.

While experts say too much of the chemical can be neurotoxic and cause other health issues like fluorosis, fluoride detractors say even the current levels in the tap water can be harmful to pregnant women and young children, conflicting with CDC recommendations.

“What more and more counties are doing is they’re asking for information on both sides of the issue, not just the CDC’s talking points,” Schmoecker said. “About 274 communities have ended water fluoridation since 2010.”

Among similar studies, he cited a 2012 birth cohort study funded by the National Institutes of Health that indicated an association between levels of fluoride ingested by pregnant women with lower IQ and a higher rate of ADHD in their children.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto said he still sides with the CDC, which advocates for fluoride’s safety, which has countless studies showing the benefits of flouride.

“So, why has that not come down from the CDC to the local public health departments and everything else? Show me a public health department that has approved getting rid of this,” Asciutto said.

Schmoecker said a lawsuit has been filed under the Toxic Substance Control Act with an extended process that has gone on for six years.

“I think it’s good to have open minds and open ears and to hear all sides of an issue,” said Commissioner Patty Crump, who invited Schmoecker to give the presentation. “It obviously was something that the Union County commissioners decided to take action on. We cannot, because it is the City of Albemarle and the Town of Norwood who actually treat the water for Stanly County residents.”

Following Schmoecker’s presentation, the commissioners held a public comment session where various medical experts gave their input on the fluoride topic.

Retired local dentist Dr. Tom Norwood of Norwood said he has seen firsthand the positive benefits of fluoride.

“If you lived when I did back in the 1950s when we didn’t have this, I got quite a few cavities. As a practicing dentist, I’ve seen what happened when people that are on well water — and don’t get public water — what they look like,” Norwood said. “There’s a lot more decay, a lot more trauma of having the restorations done and of course the expense.”

A pair of chemists and professors — Dr. Jim Beard of Albemarle and Dr. John Risley of Richfield — also spoke in favor of keeping fluoride in the water supply, echoing the American Dental Association’s claim that fluoridation of community water supplies “the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.”