AVON PARK - Stopping the fluoridation of city water has opened the floodgates of concern from the community, which was evident from comments at Wednesday's special city council meeting.
The fluoridation issue was added at the last minute to the meeting's agenda.
City Manager Julian Deleon explained why he decided to cease the injection of fluoride into the city's drinking water.
He said all three of the city's water treatment plants are interconnected into one centralized water transmission system. The water plant at the airport is the only plant that has equipment to inject fluoride into the water so he believes only residents north or Main Street were getting the treated water.
The injection system is not flow proportional so it injects the same amount of fluoride throughout the day and night, Deleon said. At 3 a.m. only 14 gallons of water per minute is used compared to 1,062 gallons per minute at 7:15 p.m.
There is no quality control so there is probably too much fluoride at 3 a.m. and then a negligible amount at 7:15 a.m., he said. The city's fluoride injection system is "obsolete."
The city should be providing safe drinking water and not putting medicine into the water, Deleon said. It is not about the cost, which is only about $6,000 a year.
City Attorney Gerald Buhr said the fluoride issue has been around "forever."
There is clearly some benefit for the prevention of cavities, but the opposition was generally people who said it was a "Communist plot to poison Americans," he said. More recently, in the past five or six years, there have been some large cities and counties that have been moving toward eliminating fluoridation.
This is really a form of forced medication and he believes it should be decided by the citizens through a referendum, Buhr said.
Councilman Parke Sutherland asked what it would cost for good fluoridation systems at all three water plants.
Deleon estimated it would cost $15,000 per water plant.
Some citizens who spoke at the meeting said there should have been notice from the city about stopping the water fluoridation.
Kathleen Border said she would have liked to have been notified about it.
Since around 1984, city residents believed their water has been fluoridated, she said.
"I would like to see how we deemed the water to be unsafe with the current system," Border said. "Was there a study that showed us that [unsafe] and that's why we stopped fluoridating?"
Deleon started to explain about the low water use at night and Border said she understood that and wanted to know if any water samples were taken.
Buhr said it was Deleon's choice to respond.
Border said the argument should be that maybe the city should invest so that all the citizens will have fluoridated water.
Highlands County Health Department Spokesman Tom Moran said he was concerned about hearing that the concentration of fluoride varied and that some taxpayers thought they were getting fluoride, but weren't because they were in different parts of the city.
He noted that fluoride is naturally occurring in all water, but it has to be within a certain level to protect teeth against cavities.
"Tonight we heard that your system is not quite up to par, this would be a good opportunity to correct that problem," he said. "The Health Department really supports the use of fluoride because it's a proven way of preventing cavities in all different age groups and all socioeconomic groups."
Highlands County Dental Association President Mike Kirsch said he was compiling dental data on county elementary students, which should show the benefits of fluoridation.
Noting that it is too late to put a referendum on the November ballot, council decided to seek input through a poll on the city's website with the hope that the fluoride issue will prompt a larger response than the recent poll on the city's trash and recycling services.