Roger Warehime

By: Roger Warehime, Director, Field Operations and External Relations

In April, federal health officials changed the recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water for the first time since 1962. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now recommending as the optimal fluoride concentration 0.7 parts per million (ppm) instead of the previous range of 0.7 to 1.2 ppm.

According to a press release by the HHS, the change in the recommendation was made because Americans now have access to more sources of fluoride, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, than they did when water fluoridation was first introduced in the United States. As a result many Americans are getting too much fluoride, with the result being increased cases of fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is a cosmetic condition in which the effects can range from barely noticeable white spots in mild forms to staining and pitting in more severe forms.

The 1962 recommendation was given as a range because the recommendation varied by region of the country based on climate, with warmer areas having lower requirements because it was assumed that people in warmer climates drank more water than those in colder climates. This assumption turned out to not be true, and so the new recommendation is the same for all areas of the country.

The HHS, along with the American Dental Association, believes that the new recommended level will maintain the protective decay benefits of water fluoridation and reduce the occurrence of fluorosis.

So, what does this mean for Owatonna? The natural occurring fluoride level in our area is 0.3 ppm. Since 1970, we have been adding fluoride to bring the level to 1.2 ppm in accordance with state law. It is expected that the state will lower the required level, but the rule-making process will take several months and perhaps as much as a year. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has set up a system to allow cities to request a variance to the current rules to allow a reduction in fluoridation while the new rules are still being finalized.

OPU applied for and received the variance. In July, we began turning our fluoride pumping equipment down to verify that it is able to operate correctly at the lower level. So far, we have been successful and we will recommend to our commission in August that we continue at the lower level recommended by the HHS.