COLUMBIA — Fluoride levels in Columbia's drinking water are higher than a new federal recommendation, and the city is asking the state for advice.
Fluoride has been added to drinking water in the U.S. since the 1940s for cavity prevention.
The federal government, in its decision to recommend lower levels, noted that Americans are getting fluoride from more sources than drinking water such as fluoride toothpastes, mouthwashes and dental treatments.
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services issued a recommendation that drinking water contain 0.7 parts fluoride per million parts of water. The previous recommended amount was between 0.7 and 1.2 parts per million.
Columbia’s average fluoride level in 2010 was 1.01 parts per million, according to a city water testing report.
The level of fluoride has stayed consistently around 1 part per million in recent years and is “continually monitored during the water treatment process ... as the water is fed into the system,” said Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for the Columbia Water and Light Department.
Floyd Turner, manager of water operations for Columbia, said the city will communicate with the Department of Natural Resources this week to discuss the new federal recommendation. The city's response will involve the Water and Light advisory board and eventually the Columbia City Council, Turner said.
John O’Connor, founder and consultant of Columbia-based H2O’C Engineering, said that almost all groundwater has low levels of naturally occurring fluoride. A natural fluoride supplement is added to drinking water to meet EPA recommendations, he said.
"I would follow the recommendation the EPA is making," O'Connor said. "I think it's a valuable public health measure. ... It's based on sound science."
Overexposure to fluoride among children under 8 can cause fluorosis, which results in spotting or streaking of teeth.
“We don’t see high levels of fluorosis unless it’s from a rural water supply,” said Kyle Lisenby, a dentist at the Plaza Dental Group. “We don’t see that in city patients who drink city water. Some of the rural wells in the area have higher levels of fluoride.”
Mary Gadbois, a dentist at Cherry Hill Dental Associates, said her office sees more children with fluorosis. She said she sees the recommendation as a good change.
"You don't need quite as much fluoride to get the benefits," she said.