The Hartland Township Board of Trustees put off deciding until it receives more information about the costs necessary to meet a proposed new EPA recommendation.
The 5-1 vote Tuesday came following a lengthy discussion where trustees debated to either end the practice altogether or invest money to control more precisely the level of fluoride added.
Voting in favor of the delay were: Supervisor Bill Fountain, Treasurer Kathie Horning and Trustees Matt Germane, Joe Colaianne and Joe Petrucci. The lone dissenting vote came from Trustee Glenn Harper, who has been a staunch advocate against fluoridation based on health risks. He favored ending the practice for good or at least while the township studies its options.
Clerk Larry Hopkins was absent from Tuesday's meeting because of a family commitment, according to Fountain.
Currently, fluoride water samples in the township range between 0.1 to 2 parts per million and the EPA is considering a new recommendation of 0.7 parts per million down from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million. The township water already has 0.4 parts per million that occurs naturally.
The board appeared to ready to vote on the issue until Public Works Director Shannon Filarecki told trustees that the state recently informed the township it would need to install a redundant system if it continues to fluoridate water.
Upgrade estimates previously outlined were about $15,000 with an additional $4,000 a year in additional annual costs, according to township documents, but that number may be higher and trustees now want updated figures before proceeding.
Township officials noted that grant money might be available to help offset upgrade costs. There also would be a cost savings if fluoridation is discontinued.
The decision would affect roughly 450 customers who are mostly residential users on the small system. The vast majority of residents have well systems.
The board's next scheduled meeting is 7 p.m. Dec. 20.
Where they stand
Trustee Harper: He first especially with ongoing exposure over time, and said fluoridation should end because people can still get fluoride through other means, such as dentists. He said afterward he was disappointed in the delay, but is glad the possibility his view could still prevail.
"We are not by stopping adding fluoride to our water — we are not preventing anyone in this community from getting fluoride" he said. "There are risks involved, and for me, the individual should have the right to determine the amount of risk that they are want to take.
"It shouldn't be the politicians. It should be the individual deciding their level of risk. All were doing is shifting the burden from us to the people where I truly believe it belongs."
Trustee Petrucci: He said he supports fluoridation after consulting with many area dentists who argue there are public health benefits. He also said not everyone in Hartland can afford dental care.
"There are some people who can't afford to have their kids have regular checkups with a dentist and those are the people we need to help support here," he said. "That's the whole idea of putting fluoride in the system.
"I can't believe the professional people who I went to talk to who I know dearly and know many, many years would recommend something that's a health risk."
Treausurer Horning: She said she agrees with Harper, adding the older she gets, the more she has become concerned about chemical and drugs after more studies come out about their negative impacts. Personally, she said has adopted a more organic lifestyle.
"My No. 1 concern being a board member is being the health and safety of our entire community and I don't feel medicating people without their approval or desire or even knowledge is a good thing," she said.
"My kids have been raised on well water their entire life and I have two children who had one filing in their entire mouth and they are 30 years old, so I don't think it has to do with fluoridation."
Supervisor Fountain: He said he's concerned about the continuing drop of the optimal levels from the EPA and favored stopping fluoridation while the issue is studied further about whether the township could reach the new recommended level. He added, though, he'd like to reach a board compromise.
Fountain also said skeptical about whether it makes sense to hit the 0.7 level because he consulted with a chemist at Central Michigan University who told him there isn't much difference between 0.7 parts per million and 0.4 parts per million, which already is naturally occurring in the township's ground water.
"What's the return and benefit from going 0.4 to 0.7?" he said. "I'd like to see if we have the technology to go to that difference. … I'm just trying to determine what's best for the community. … I'm more concerned about the fluctuations."
Trustee Germane: He said because so far residents speaking up have favored keeping fluoridation and there hasn't been a public push to change, he's in favor of the upgrade.
"If in fact the public decides in the future after they do more research on their own, they don't think it's worth the benefit, then bring it to our attention," he said.
Trustee Colaianne: He said he's in favor of upgrading the current system to match the EPA's recommendation. He said the research discussing health risks hasn't convinced him there is a problem, especially at the lower levels of exposure.
"Why not be more accurate and do that? I think that's a good compromise," he said.
"If the No. 1 person responsible for health in state is recommending fluoridation, our heath department in Livingston is recommending fluoridation, our dental association who doesn't have anything to profit from fluoridation really when you think about it … I guess I am trying to figure why this is such an issue?"
Before the discussion, Hartland resident Jordan Genso was critical of board members for considering an end to fluoridation during public comment.
"In our society you can live in an information bubble where you only look at information that reinforces your opinion and you ignore reality when it disputes that opinion, but when elected officials are living in that bubble and try to make policy because of that, it really does affect us all and it's very inappropriate," he said.
He also said the board shouldn't interpret a small number of those speaking in favor of keeping fluoridation as evidence that people were ready to do away with it. Harper was quoted in a Press & Argus article making that point and Genso said he hoped it had been taken out of context.
"That is absurd," Genso said of the argument. "That's not a rationale position to take. … If the decision is going to be made, keep in mind there was nobody who was advocating getting rid of fluoride other than one trustee."
During the board discussion, Horning disputed that the board is in a bubble, noting advocates for both sides have been bombarding the board with information.
"I don't believe this board lives in a bubble; I think it's the most open-minded board I've ever worked with on in all my years being on the board and I've been on several different boards. I had no opinion either way when I came to this issue … I've read more on this issue than any other I've been involved with."