Fluoride is not going in South Blount Utility District’s water this month.
Protesters concerned with the dangers of ingesting fluoride stood in the rain Tuesday morning in hopes of stopping the fluoride, but it was a clerical error that led to the board postponing the move to put fluoride in the water they sell to customers throughout the area.
Linda King, president of Citizens for Blount County’s Future, said it was pouring rain as 15 protestors took the board to task for their recent decision to add fluoride to their water. Another 25 protestors went straight into the building for the meeting, she said.
“We protested because we’re still trying to get across the point that the majority of citizens don’t want fluoride, and we’re still looking for those that want it. They’re invisible,” she said. “Nobody is coming forward with documentation that fluoride is good to ingest.”
King said her group has asked Mayor Jerry Cunningham repeatedly to show paper work justifying his stance supporting fluoride in the water.
“It’s a topical application. It doesn’t mean it works from the inside out and when you’re ingesting it, it causes documented health problems,” she said.
King said several people spoke at the South Blount Utility Board meeting Tuesday morning. The community activist said she told the board that they never told the customers in writing that they planned to start adding fluoride to the water again.
Blount Utility District chair Virginia Morton said that when the board in January chose to add fluoride into the water again, the staff was ordered to notify customers in writing. During the meeting, staffers told Morton that had not been done.
“According to the staff, it will take four billing cycles to get all these notifications out,” she said.
Morton said the billing cycle will start March 17 and four cycles will take the board through April 7, which is after their next called meeting.
“I don’t think we’ll call a special meeting to vote on that, so it will probably be in the May meeting before we go ahead and direct them to start the fluoride,” Morton said.
Morton said she realizes that some people are upset about this issue. “I think they have a right to protest,” she said.
Morton said it appeared the mayor wasn’t going to put anyone on the board unless they supported fluoride in the water. “He was wanting the board to be fluoride active,” she said.
King counted the postponement as a victory. “What we got was a one-month reprieve,” she said of the move to give customers notice of the utility’s intention to put fluoride back in the water.
“We’re going to continue to get more awareness in the community, try to get people to call board members and the mayor and get people more educated and generate more of an outcry in the community that we don’t want this to happen,” she said.
South Blount Utility board chair Virginia Morton said there are many sides to the debate.
“I just have to go by the information I receive, every side. It’s not black and white. If you’ve done the research, there are still ongoing studies and there really are no conclusions,” she said. “It is just complicated. It’s a sensitive issue.”
According to a February News Sentinel article by Robert Wilson, fluoride has been recognized by public health officials for decades as a preventative for tooth decay, particularly among children whose teeth are still forming. It has been hailed as one of the top public health success stories of the 20th century.
Scientists acknowledge that fluoride, in doses larger than recommended for water supplies, can have an array of detrimental effects on health, but they say that in controlled situations its benefits far outweigh its dangers.
A large majority of the nation’s public water suppliers, including all in Blount County except South Blount, fluoridate their water.
South Blount removed fluoride in 2004 when it opened its new water plant off Calderwood Highway. Officials said at the time that the water the utility draws from deep in Tellico Lake is exceptionally pure and they declined to add fluoride, saying they wanted to keep it as pristine as possible.