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Officials with the Jefferson County Water Authority, which serves customers in Festus and Herculaneum, have been discussing the possibility of discontinuing the practice of adding fluoride to the water system.

Many water providers add fluoride to their systems because the chemical helps prevent tooth decay.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fluoridated water can reduce cavities by around 25 percent in children and adults.

Jim Kasten, president of the six-person Water Authority board, said the plant manager proposed the district stop adding fluoride to the water system because of the possible hazard the chemical poses for employees who handle it.

Kasten said the board, which oversees the Jokerst Water Plant, also is looking at adding an automatic system that would add fluoride to the water instead of having workers add it manually.

“We are researching that cost right now,” Kasten said.

He said the Water Authority Board, which is made up of three numbers from Festus and three members from Herculaneum, has talked for about two months about the possibility of not adding fluoride and the next step would be to vote on whether to survey the public.

“We’re going to probably send a letter out or public notice and wait for responses,” he said.

Kasten said the water board might vote at its Dec. 19 meeting, which is set for 10 a.m. in the Festus City Hall council chambers, to send out a public notice.

Currently, the Water Authority’s fluoride level is .7 milligrams per liter, and naturally occurring levels are around .3 and .4, Kasten said.

Michelle Vaughn, treasurer for Water Authority board, said the agency buys 2,200 pounds of fluoride for $4,466 four times a year.

“It’s not expensive when you compare it to the value per person,” Kasten added.

Board member Matt Clemens said fluoride was first added to the water system in 2003, which was when the plant went online.

Health officials have concern

Kelley Vollmar, director of the Jefferson County Health Department, said she is concerned about the dental health of the Festus and Herculaneum residents if the Water Authority stops adding fluoride to the system.

She said every dollar invested in fluoridated water can save a person $20 in dental care.

“There are 25 percent fewer cavities in communities who regulate the fluoride in their water than communities without water fluoridation,” Vollmar said.

She said fluoride is a preventive measure for children and adults who might not have easy access to regular dental care.

“Fluoridation is one of the most soundly researched ways we know to be able to provide a preventive oral health piece for the community,” Vollmar said.

According to the CDC, 75.6 percent of people across the country have fluoridated drinking water, and according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Missouri has 467 fluoridated water systems.

“Community water fluoridation is safe and effective, and it’s economical,” said Dr. John Dane, Missouri’s dental director. “It’s also the least expensive and most effective way to reduce tooth decay.”

Vollmar said she spoke about her concerns at the Water Authority board’s Nov. 21 meeting. She said local dentists, employees from Missouri DHSS and Comtrea and others also spoke on the topic.

“Basically adding fluoride to the water is the same as adding iodine to salt or vitamin D to milk,” she said. “It’s naturally occurring elements and they have additional health benefits.”

In 2012, the city of Pevely took fluoride out of the water system to cut costs.

Vollmar said that according to a presentation from Dane, Pevely has since seen an increase in tooth decay.

His report said that in 2014, 30.7 percent of school children were treated for decay and by 2018, 33.4 percent of children were treated, Vollmar said.

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