BANGOR, Maine — In response to anticipated changes in federal guidelines, the Bangor Water District expects to decrease the amount of fluoride added to public drinking water supplies, perhaps as soon as next week.
The state’s drinking water program has given water utilities the go-ahead to drop their fluoride levels even though official rulemaking will not be completed for several months.
Fluoride has been added in small amounts to drinking water supplies since the 1960s in order to help prevent tooth decay in children. Fluoridation is generally considered one of the great public health advances of the 20th century. But there have been ongoing debates about its safety as well as periodic allegations of its use in government conspiracies including plots to install a communist regime and weaken American children.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services announced on Jan. 7 that it will revise downward the recommended level of fluoride in public drinking water, reflecting concern that too much fluoride causes discoloration and pitting in children’s teeth. Because fluoridated water is used in many prepackaged foods and beverages, Americans may be getting more than they need, the HHS report says.
Recommendations vary from region to region. In New England the recommended level has been 1.2 parts per million. The new federal guideline will likely be set at 0.7 ppm nationwide. The American Dental Association has endorsed the change.
Bangor Water District Superintendent Kathy Moriarty said Wednesday that fluoride will be on the agenda at the next meeting of the water district’s board of trustees, scheduled for Jan. 18.
“My recommendation will be that we go to 0.7,” she said. If approved, the change likely would go into effect the next day.
Communities decide individually whether they want fluoride in their public water supplies. Roger Krouse, director of the Maine Drinking Water Program in the Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday that 72 public water utilities in Maine — including those in all of Maine’s major cities — provide fluori-dated water to their customers.
About 20 already have dropped their fluoride levels in response to the federal guidelines, he said, and others will follow suit in the near future.
Bangor’s water comes from Floods Pond in Otis. The water in Floods Pond contains natural fluoride of about 0.2 parts per million, Moriarty said. More fluoride is added to the water to bring it to the desired level before it is distributed to homes and businesses in Bangor as well as in Clifton, Eddington, Hermon, Orrington, Vea-zie and Hampden.