City looks at costs of fluoridating water supply

Federal and state grants could alleviate expense of plan pushed by dentists


March 11, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Taneytown has decided to look into the costs of fluoridating its water supply after a recent visit from a delegation of Carroll County and state officials and a handful of dentists praising its health benefits.

Perhaps more persuasive than health benefits was information about federal and state grants -- available on a first-come, first-served basis -- that can help pay for engineering and startup costs.

"Fluoridating the water supply is a major public health initiative," said Lois Bankert, the oral health care program coordinator for the Carroll County Health Department, who led a presentation to the Town Council during a work session last week.

Fluoride reduces cavities by 60 percent in children and 35 percent in adults, and it strengthens bones, Bankert told council members. It is most effective in water, rather than in toothpaste or a rinse, and it costs less for consumers when delivered through the water supply.

"All of the non-fluoridated water supplies will be considered, but Taneytown is the largest" in Carroll, serving about 5,500 people, Bankert said.

"We only have a certain amount of money to spend," said Dr. Elizabeth Ruff, the county's deputy health officer. "Obviously, we want to use it to get the most bang for our buck."

Fluoride is added to the water supply in the Freedom, Mount Airy, Wakefield Valley and Westminster systems, but is not in Hampstead, Manchester, Taneytown, Union Bridge, New Windsor, Bark Hill or Pleasant Valley, health officials said.

Officials' concerns centered around costs. Taneytown's Town Council decided Monday to direct its staff look into the matter, said Mayor W. Robert Flickinger.

"We decided to go along with the county and find out how much it's going to cost us," Flickinger said. "I have no idea what it's going to take. ... We'll wait and see."

Flickinger recalled that the subject of fluoridating the water supply was raised about 15 years ago -- but it met with intense resistance from a town manager.

Bankert said that is why she wanted the Town Council "to feel comfortable, to ask questions and have people there to answer them."

James P. Peck, research director of the Maryland Municipal League, has kept a file on fluoridation for decades and said that proof of its ability to prevent cavities is "overwhelming." This effect was first noted because fluoride occurs naturally in some water sources, he said.

Of the league's 157 municipalities, including Baltimore, Peck said, "the vast majority of populations on public water systems in the state have it."

But, he said, "back in the 1950s it was thought to be a Communist plot, and there is still some of that sentiment. There's still a pure-water league that fights these things."

In most places, he said, fluoridation "seems to happen without any uproar at all."

That was Westminster's experience, said Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works for Carroll's largest incorporated municipality, which serves about 30,000 people.

"Here, it's been a non-issue," Beyard said.

But in Carroll's smallest town, Union Bridge, fluoride is not in the immediate future.

Mayor Bret D. Grossnickle said he has been contacted about fluoridating the water supply, but "I think it should be on the ballot."

Grossnickle also said "it's a pain in the butt, operationally, to do."

A resident who did not identify herself told the mayor and council members during the work session that she was shocked to learn the water was not fluoridated when she moved to Taneytown in November. She said her three children take fluoride drops, which cost $21 a month.

Dr. Harry Goodman, an assistant professor and director of the fellowship program at the University of Maryland Dental School, attended the work session with several area dentists and said, "91 percent of people who live in public water systems receive fluoridation -- and we think it's the right thing to do."

"Community water fluoridation is our No. 1 priority," said Ilise Marrazzo, acting director of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's office of oral health.

Marrazzo told Taneytown council members that there are two funding sources: a planning grant for the cost of an engineer to assess a water system, and one for equipment and the first year's fluoride.

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