Local News

Story published: 03-13-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Fluoridated water debate continues

By Jonathan Pleasant

Having discussed the city’s fluoridation of its water supply last month, Mountain City’s Town council listened to concerns and comments from the public at its most recent meeting, including several practicing dentists from the local area. After initially introducing the issue because of damage that the chemical causes to the water department’s pipes and pumps, Water Plant Manager Andy Garland was also on hand to give his concerns about continuing the fluoride supplements.

Bringing pictures of the damaged equipment as well as pieces of corroded pipe as evidence, Garland explained that even though the state has continuously decreased the requirements for fluoride, the costs of keeping the mineral in the water supply have only gone up. As a result many of the departments in the surrounding area have began considering dropping its use. Garland also pointed out that even though some sources claim the mineral is not corrosive, the barrels that the fluoride comes in clearly indicate that it is. Further, even the fumes from the chemical have done significant damage to the metal gratings and walkways at the plant.

In contrast, each of the dentists that spoke to the council had only praise for the chemical’s use, particularly noting that it has been utilized for more than 60 years with little or no detrimental effect on the general population, while at the same time greatly reducing dental decay, especially in young children. Even more importantly, all of those speaking in favor of keeping fluoride made it very clear that Johnson County and Mountain City are already overwhelmed with dental problems and too few dentists here to handle the demand.

Dr. Julia Tyson from Boone, NC was the first to speak, noting that she is already looking at establishing an office in Mountain City after the retirement of long time dentist Dr. Joe Ray. Tyson made several points about Fluoride including the fact that its use can see a 20-60% reduction in decay for the average patient, and that on average for every $1 spent on fluoride there was $38 savings in dental work.

Next up was Dr. Rachel Dasher from the Johnson County Health Department who also noted the huge demand already present for dental services. Dasher presented information from the CDC and other state and federal sources indicating that fluoride is a perfectly safe addition to the water supply and that by having it in the system, thousands of school hours a year were saved for the county’s students. Dasher concluded by reading letters of support from both Dr. Donald Tarr, and Dr. Raina Sluder.

Also from the health department was dental hygienist Sharon Kennedy, who shared Dasher’s concerns and added that she could clearly tell when a child came from a home with well water versus city water simply by the increased amount of cavities and other problems. Agreeing, Dr. Stephen Jones from Northeast Correctional Complex stated that he had been a dentist for 32 years and has greatly appreciated what fluoride has done for himself and his family.

The only opposition to fluoride came from Derick Becker of Becker Labs who detailed his extensive experience handling dangerous chemicals and made the statement that fluoride was an “insidious, corrosive material” that is not only harmful to metal pipes and water pumps, but the human body as well. Presenting the council with paperwork showing that fluoride is used as pesticide and insecticide, primarily against rats and cockroaches, Becker claimed that fluoride attacks the kidneys and the liver and was even used in a gas form in Nazi concentration camps.

Reserving his comments for very last, long time dentist Dr. Ed Mahoney made several strong points, beginning with the fact that while fluoride did indeed react with certain metals in a corrosive manner, the amount of dilution in the water supply made it completely harmless to drink. Mahoney went on to say that he was a strong believer in the benefits of the chemical from a professional standpoint, specifically stating that he believed, “it has done tremendous good for the children.”  Possibly making the strongest point of all, Mahoney ended by saying that at 84 years old he has been drinking fluoride in the water for many, many years with no ill effects whatsoever.

Following the comments, Mayor Lawrence Keeble stated that he had been approached by supporters on both sides of the issue since the last meeting, and that this would be an important decision for the council to make. Indicating that he felt the decision would likely be a split vote, Keeble went on to say that he felt sure of his personal stance to keep the fluoride in the system but encouraged the council to vote the way they saw best.

Pointing out the wealth of new information presented to the council, Alderman Bob Morrison questioned whether or not the council should make a choice this month or give time to think about what course to take. With several members agreeing to postpone the vote, Morrison went on to make a motion to table the item until next month.

C.L. Overman with Cumberland Securities was also back this month to finish up the city’s recent push to refinance some of its existing debt with lower interest rates. Saving more than $400,000 overall and reducing the pay off by seven years, council members were in support of the refundings, giving Mayor Keeble the authority to sign the agreement and get the process underway.

Paul Welborn with Bridge Builders Inc. was present to make a request for a fundraiser road block to help support homeless and needy children in the area. A nonprofit organization, Bridge Builders was formed in Sept. 2011 to help take in children who are neglected, homeless, or abused for a limited time period and also operates a food pantry. Welborn also indicated that the group would be holding a fundraiser auction in June at the Johnson County Crewette building with donated items including a mink coat and an antique rocker. With no roadblocks scheduled until the summer, the council approved Welborn’s request unanimously.

City recorder Sheila Shaw had several items to bring before the council, including a request by Barbara Coyne to hold the annual Sunflower Festival on July 20th this year. Having already approved the event as one of the regular street closings for downtown, the council agreed to the date without problem. However, Shaw also revealed a request to close a section of street by Cindy Church, owner of the Trading Post, near Tri-State Growers.

Shutting down the longtime business, Church has had to set up dates to auction off the building’s contents and would like to close the section directly in front of the store for loading and unloading. Unfortunately, with a vast amount of items in the building the process could take as many as three separate days, leaving the council with a difficult proposition. Although city officials would like to work with longtime business owners like Church, there was a policy recently put in place to limit road closures altogether, and as Mayor Keeble pointed out there could be a legal issue with closing a street for a private business.

City attorney Steve McEwen confirmed that he would have to conduct research on the item, before he could actually give a recommendation. After discussing the issue at length, members of the council reached a consensus that because there is limited means to load and unload from the store, closing one lane might be acceptable, but that there was simply too much need for access to close the road altogether. With Alderman Kenny Icenhour seconding, Alderman Bob Morrison made the successful motion to give Mayor Keeble and City Attorney McEwen the authority to close of one lane directly in front of the Trading Post provided it could be done legally.

To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.