Fluoride Vote Postponed; Water Bill May Change

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Oct. 22 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, the board decided to postpone the vote on fluoridation of the water supply to the Nov. 19 meeting. The board also discussed simplifying the appearance of water bills, which would alter the categories of reported charges but would not affect the total amount owed.

In August, the board gave notice it would vote in October to discontinue adding fluoride to treated drinking water. Board president Charlie Smith recommended postponing the scheduled vote since board member Art Hanson was absent. Four visitors attended the meeting to voice their opinions on fluoridation.

Retired dentist Dr. Robert Childress provided the board with 30 pages of documentation supporting continuing fluoridation, along with letters of support from retired pediatric physician Dr. William Altemeier and retired dentist Dr. Bruce Baird.

When water supply fluoridation began 50 years ago, studies showed it reduced tooth decay by 40 percent, Childers said. Current data shows water supply fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 25 percent.

“There are other ways people can get fluoride,” said Sewanee resident Jane Flynn. “The dentist can apply it.” Currently 50 percent of U.S. communities do not add fluoride to the drinking water, Flynn stressed. “There are thousands of studies showing problems with fluoride.”

Dr. Robert Ashby, Dental Director for the Southeast Region of the Tennessee Department of Health, said, “We very much support fluoridation.”

“We should rely on the available data to inform our decisions,” said Sewanee resident and professor of psychology Jordan Troisi.

Smith noted, “less than one percent of the drinking water SUD treats is used for human consumption. Only a very small population receives any benefits from the added fluoride.”

Commissioner Ronnie Hoosier pointed to statistics documenting the large amount of bottled water Americans drink.

SUD manager Ben Beavers estimated the cost of adding fluoride at 50 cents per customer per year.

“It’s not just the cost of adding fluoride,” said Commissioner Paul Evans. “Fluoride eats our equipment up.”

Beavers explained the vent tube was the source for the external corrosion of the fluoride feed equipment. He compared the corrosive effect to 16.5 percent bleach solution and estimated the cost of replacing the equipment at $6,000-$7,000.

Turning to the 2020 draft budget, Beavers said the big-ticket capital improvement items were leak detection ($35,000), replacing the aging tractor at the Wastewater Treatment Plant ($25,000), and equipping pump motors with Variable Frequency Drives to reduce power consumption ($30,000).

“There are no significant changes in income or operating expenses in the 2020 draft budget,” Beavers said. He noted, however, he has not yet received figures on health care costs.

The board is considering a 0.5 to 1 percent rate increase, according to Smith.

The proposed bill simplification would remove the charge categorized as “water and sewer repair and replacement” and include that amount in the charge for gallons used. The charge for “water and sewer repair and replacement” is based on gallons used. Only the appearance of the bill would change, not the amount owed.

The board meets next on Tuesday, Nov. 19, a week earlier than usual.