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Grand Rapids celebrates 75 years of fluoridated water

Grand Rapids was the first U.S. city to add fluoride to their water.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids leaders celebrated being the first U.S. city to add fluoride to the water. It happened 75 years ago on Jan. 25, 1945, as Grand Rapids was part of a controlled study to prevent tooth decay. The city saw success, and over time fluoridation spread across the nation.

The American Dental Association credited water fluoridation with reducing tooth decay by 50-60% in the U.S. since its introduction, especially in children. The Centers for Disease Control named community water fluoridation one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

Both Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer publicly endorsed the act. Bliss presented a proclamation to James Hurt, the city's director of public services, and Whitmer designated Jan. 25 as Community Water Fluoridation Day in Michigan.

However, some in West Michigan are not seeing the anniversary as a cause of celebration. They attended a Grand Rapids city commission meeting on Tuesday evening to share their thoughts.

"Today the mayor, Mayor Bliss, made a proclamation that communities have benefited from fluoride in the drinking water. I sent the mayor an email with the current science on fluoride in water and asked her to reconsider. She did not." said one attendee.

Theresa Emshwiller, a mother who chooses to filter the fluoride out of her water, said she has safety concerns.

"The problem is you can’t dose it. You might drink a gallon of water a day, whereas this person over here might only drink a couple cups of water a day," she explained.

Bonnie Ballard, executive director of Michigan's section of the American Water Works Association said the optimal fluoride exposure is 0.7 milligrams per liter. The desired level was dropped from 1.2 milligrams per liter nearly five years ago to combat overexposure, after fluoride became popular in over-the-counter drugs.

Ballard added that areas can vote out of fluoridation and individuals can filter the fluoride out of their water, but Emshwiller said filtering can be expensive.

"You can’t just go buy a Brita at Meijer or Target, and it will filter out the fluoride system. I mean you have to have an RO system to get that out and those aren’t cheap," Emshwiller said.

According to the CDC, community water fluoridation is recommended by nearly all public health, medical and dental organizations, such the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Public Health Service and World Health Organization. 

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Ballard said while every individual should be able to have their own choice in water preference, the National Water Works Association is proud of the achievements made in the way of water fluoridation.

"Fluoride exposure, particularly fluoridated water reduces tooth decay. So we know that that is true, and we know that oral health is a key factor in maintaining overall health," Ballard said.

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For more information about community water fluoridation, click here.


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