Friday, January 7, 2011
SAN DIEGO Just as San Diego’s getting ready to fluoridate its water, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is recommending cities use a lower concentration of fluoride… lower than what San Diego plans to use.
For years, federal regulations recommended a range of fluoride concentrations, from 0.7 milligrams per liter to 1.2 milligrams per liter of drinking water. But today Health and Human Services (HHS) changed its recommendation to a single standard: 0.7 milligrams per liter. When San Diego turns on the fluoride pumps, sometime during the next two months, it plans to use 0.9 milligrams per liter.
Dr. Nadine Gracia, of the HHS, said the agency has changed its recommendations because the old standards have been around since the 1960’s and lots of things have changed. For one thing, we get fluoride from many more products, like toothpaste, than we used to.
The old range of standards was also based on the assumption that kids who live in hot climates drink more tap water than cold-weather kids, therefore getting more fluoride. New data show that’s no longer the case, and using a single standard makes more sense. Gracia also said there’s a growing incidence in the U.S. of dental fluorosis, in which excessive fluoride exposure gives teeth a mottled appearance.
“We still believe fluoridation is an effective way to prevent tooth decay,” she said. “But we want to minimize risks, so that’s what we’re doing.”
San Diego water officials are reacting cautiously to the new HHS guidelines.
“I think it’s interesting from a scientific point of view,” said Jim McVeigh, supervisor of the Otay water treatment plant. “But I can’t change my pumps in response to it because I’d be in violation of state regulations.”
The Health and Human Services Department’s recommendations are just that. They are not requirements, and they have no direct impact on the way the State of California governs the use of fluoride by local water agencies. But the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the new findings, and they may soon force water systems to conform to HHS standards.
McVeigh adds that changing San Diego from 0.9 milligrams per liter to 0.7 milligrams per liter would be no problem; just a matter of changing a few dials. Until San Diego actually begins fluoridation, it remains the largest municipal water service in the country that does not add fluoride to its water.