By Joe Tash
Staff WriterA planned upgrade to a water filtration plant operated by the Santa Fe Irrigation District means that for the first time, the district’s 20,000 residents will receive fluoridated drinking water over a six-week period beginning Jan. 1.
During the treatment plant’s closure, the district will buy treated water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which adds fluoride to its drinking water supply, said Santa Fe general manager Michael Bardin.
“We need to let all our customers know — you’re going to get fluoridated water for this period of time,” said Bardin.
Although the district has briefly used treated water from Metropolitan in the past, this will be the first time that drinking water in the district’s service area — which includes Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch and Solana Beach — will be fluoridated for an extended period of time, Bardin said.
Low levels of fluoride occur naturally in water supplies; but public health officials say that adding fluoride to drinking water prevents tooth decay, especially in children. However, opposition to fluoride has also arisen, ranging from those who are concerned about possible adverse health effects, to those who consider it a form of compulsory mass medication.
“It’s very controversial,” said Bardin.
Bardin said the Santa Fe district does not add fluoride when it treats drinking water at its R.E. Badger filtration plant for several reasons, including the added cost, potential opposition and a lack of demand for fluoridation from district customers.
California law requires water agencies with 10,000 or more service connections to add fluoride to their drinking water. Santa Fe falls below that threshold, and therefore is not mandated to fluoridate its water supply.
Fluoride was first added to drinking water in the United States in 1945, and its use has been controversial since the beginning. Historical accounts note that some opponents suggested the addition of fluoride to public drinking water supplies was a “communist plot” to undermine public health.
However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recognized fluoridated drinking water as one of the 10 most important public health achievements of the 20th century, a list that includes vaccinations, improved motor-vehicle safety and recognition of the health hazards of tobacco use.
Numerous scientific studies have found that fluoridated water is an effective method to reduce tooth decay, said Dr. Richard Clark, director of medical toxicology at UC San Diego Medical Center.
“That’s why it’s in every tube of toothpaste that you can buy,” said Clark. “It’s perfectly healthy.”
“The science is settled on this. It’s well known that (fluoride) prevents cavities and it’s not toxic,” he said.
No evidence exists of any negative health effects from fluoride at the low levels used in drinking water and toothpaste, Clark said.
But some continue to insist there are negative effects. Michael Hogan, president of the Santa Fe Irrigation District Board of Directors, said his sister told him she is sensitive to fluoride due to a medical condition, and wanted to be informed if fluoride is added to the district’s drinking water.
“There will be a segment of the population absolutely opposed to inserting a chemical into the water,” Hogan said.
According to the website of the California Department of Public Health, about 67 percent of the U.S. population has access to fluoridated drinking water.
In San Diego County, about 70 percent of the drinking water supply is fluoridated, Bardin estimated.
The district is closing its filtration plant for a $1.5 million project to improve the facility’s disinfection process, Bardin said. Baffling will be installed in a 13-million-gallon treatment tank, which will increase the time that water is in contact with disinfectants.
During the plant’s closure, the district will receive treated water from the Metropolitan Water District’s treatment plant near Hemet, said Bardin.
Once the Badger plant reopens, fluoridated water will remain in the system for about two weeks, Bardin said.