As of July 31, water provided by Project 7 Water Authority, which includes City of Montrose consumers, no longer contains the supplemented mineral fluoride.
The Project 7 board of directors made the decision to end fluoride treatment of its water based on the domestic supply of the product, said Adam Turner, plant manager.
“It was totally about the supply of the fluoride product. We’ve been feeding this kind of fluoride, called sodium silica fluoride, for 33 years at the water plant,” Turner explained.
Sodium silica fluoride, also called dry fluoride, was produced in only a few U.S. locations. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the last remaining dry fluoride production plant in the country.
With no source for dry fluoride and the domestic supply running out, Turner and Project 7 board members searched for a solution to continue supplementing water with the mineral, which holds dental health benefits for consumers.
One option was treating water with an acidic form of fluoride. Many water treatment facilities will likely use this treatment, Turner said, but it was not ideal for Project 7’s water due to the pH level found in its source — Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Gunnison River.
“My pH is such that I don’t want to feed any acid to the water because that would make it aggressive to the customers’ pipes, so that’s not really a good option for us,” Turner said.
Another fluoride product was considered, but would have cost Project 7 about three to four times the cost of the previous fluoride product, and would have required heavier feeding and infrastructure changes.
Project 7 had been spending from $11,000 to $13,000 a year for fluoride; the other product considered by the board would have run closer to $50,000 a year.
A final consideration, given the lack of a U.S. product, was to buy from an international source. The only supplier, the board found out, was China.
John Harris, City of Montrose director of public works, sits on the Project 7 board and he, along with other board members, had concerns with buying a Chinese product to be used in such an important resource.
“While we could buy a Chinese product, my concern was the quality control aspects of products coming out of China in general,” Harris said. “There’s a reason that we use U.S. sourced steel and pipe and things like that. I’m even less comfortable using a (Chinese) product that consumers would ingest, ultimately.”
With solutions to the fluoride shortage few in number and great in cost and complications, Project 7 came to a decision to cease fluoride treatment completely.
“The board just decided it was in the best interest of Project 7 and the customers to end that practice,” Harris said.
Turner said the decision would likely be met with mixed reactions from consumers. Some water customers have in the past voiced concerns with fluoride treatment for a range of reasons. Others extol the benefits to dental health.
“The board’s been through a lot of these controversies,” Turner said. “They’ve had people there saying, ‘we don’t want this stuff.’”
“This really has turned into a good opportunity to say enough is enough,” Turner said.
Both Turner and Harris emphasized the decision was not based on the health benefits of fluoride; cost, availability and other practical factors were at the center of Project 7’s choice.
“The board just really chose not to take a position one way or the other on the health benefit; it really just came down to that we could no longer get a U.S. sourced product,” Harris said.
“It was totally about the supply of the fluoride product,” Turner added.
Aside from ceasing fluoride treatment, there are no other effects to the quality of the water Project 7 provides, Turner said.
Project 7’s water treatment facility supplies roughly 5 million gallons per day in winter months and roughly 15 million gallons per day in summer months. Fluoride occurs naturally at concentrations ranging from 0.15 to 0.25 milligrams per liter. When supplemented, fluoride concentration was around 2.4 milligrams per liter.
For those consumers seeking an alternative source of fluoride, products including toothpastes and mouthwashes offer fluoride-supplemented alternatives. Consult a dentist prior to using these products.