The board of a sleepy water district in Chattanooga is doused Friday under a cataract of opposition to fluoride that sloshed routine business to the back of the agenda.
Hixson-area residents angered at the industrial acid in drinking water say Hixson Utility District is playing with the health of its customers by continuing the chemical drip into public water.
The district injects hydrofluorosilicic acid, commonly called fluoride, into water that 26,000 customers drink and use for bathing, gardening and food preparation.
Strong support for clean water in July prompted a Soddy Daisy-based utility to kill its fluoride program, which operated voluntarily without statutory obligation for years.
A doctor backs status quo
Supporting the Hixson injection program, however, is Glenn Czarnecki, a regional director for the state’s department of health who remains silent.
Sitting next to him is Dr. Andrew Combs, who found out about the outpouring of anger at the last minute. He remains seated but turns rearward to address the skeptical audience.
“I do feel comfortable in recommending (fluoride) for my families,” just as he does vaccines, Dr. Combs says, “and — broader — as a public health physician, for the community at large. One, it works.” He cites a medical journal article about the cost-benefit ratio favoring fluoride. Secondarily, “it also protects against cavities. At the appropriate levels it not will only increase the strength of the enamel but also cuts down on any bacterial growth in the teeth. It’s safe and effective.”
Dr. Combs cites the political and medical establishment’s support for “the natural substance,” fluoride: The federal surgeon general, CDC, World Health Organization, American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the AMA. But overfluoridation “can have some negative effects,” Dr. Combs warns.
Tensions are high and persist even as the meeting ends.
Greg Butler, Hixson Utility’s general manager, threatens to have the leading clean water activist, Heath Marter, 29, escorted from the building if he keeps sounding bellicose. It is the grace of the board to give him a venue for seeking redress of grievances, and not Mr. Marter’s right to bend its ears, he suggests.
Three people oversee the quasi-governmental Hixson entity. Jeff Davis, an attorney employed by Department of Children’s Services, says he is new to the job. Rebecca Hunter has held office eight years, she says. A third, Ken Rich, is absent.
Social media crowbar
Mr. Marter, a musician from Soddy-Daisy, and his girlfriend, Liz Morris, pumped their anxieties on social media over the past two weeks. It created a sensation that lands him before the district bosses despite fluoride being absent from an otherwise dreary agenda. The meeting is captured in its entirety by Miss Morris on the Save Chattanooga page on Facebook. Live video brings drama and excitement to the hour, putting the controversy before viewers all over the country. Mr. Butler and the board member do their best to avoid giving the appearance of being besieged.
The board should do the “conservative thing” by eliminating hydrofluorosilicic acid and avoiding legal liability, Mr. Marter asserts. He had been given two minutes to speak but goes longer because the board, not thinking quickly enough to snuff the uproar, lets other people yield him their time — by one count 10 minutes.
In a video posted earlier in the day Mr. Marter says, “We’ve got questions for these guys. We want to know exactly where they’re buying the fluoride concentrate from that they’re putting in our water. We also want to know — we want to see the studies on where it’s proven to be safe. Also, we want to see the chemo containers where they hold the fluoride.”
The meeting gives occasion to satisfy Mr. Marter’s demand for “documents for the chemical compounds of the (hydrofluorocilicic) acid that we are getting.” Mr. Butler hands him a paper from Unimin Corp. in Bakersville, N.C.
“The last two shipments we received, here is the chemical quality certificate — that you can pass that around," Mr. Butler says. “And that’s the last two shipments that we received for the year.”
Mr. Marter glances over the document and says the numbers add up only to 24 percent and are “clearly inadequate.” They are “falsely labeled on the [Hixson district] website.”
Fluoride should be given to people who need it for medical purposes, he says, and the chemical should not be given to every customer. Most of his time goes to quoting Dr. Jim Maxey and other dentists at Dentalconfessions.com opposed to what Mr. Marter describes as “‘this toxic, arsenic-laced industrial waste’” in public water.
“Sir, we are not going to answer your questions today,” Mr. Butler says with finality.
‘Struggle with titans’
Among those facing Mr. Butler is Harriet Cash, owner of Chattanooga Realty. She says an information blackout by the political establishment in 1988 stymied her efforts to fight fluoride when she lived outside Denver. The book A Struggle with Titans; Forces Behind Fluoridation by G.L. Waldbott and others like it disappeared from library shelves, she says. But now she has a copy she held up.
Her comments run to the technical: “Fluorosis is a toxin in the human body. Dr. Jennifer Jowsey in the 1970s at the University of Glasgow at which she was a leading researcher, said that at one tenth of one part per million [fluoride] delays the motility of white blood cells to a site of infection. We’re fluoridating in America up to two parts per million. One tenth of 1 percent *** has a profound effect on our immune system. I would love to see hydrofluorocilicic acid removed from our water supply.”
Local precedent for ditching fluoride
Hixson Utility District spends roughly $17,000 per year on the acid, Mr. Butler says. His staff has to account for equipment damage from fluoride, which plant operators on the back row say they handle without masks or protective gear. It’s not immediately clear if that figure includes repair costs.
In July Northwest Utility District in Soddy-Daisy shuttered its fluoride drip system, much to the relief of plant operators and staffers who all despised fluoride. David Collett, the general manager, won the day by arguing against corrosion damage caused by the acid and unknown future legal liabilities. Mr. Collett and Mr. Butler have talked frequently, Mr. Butler says, without revealing how far his professional colleague might have gotten in convincing him to drop fluoride.
The summertime support of dentists for maintaining north Hamilton County fluoridation was weak, even though the president of the Chattanooga Area Dental Society, Brian Schenck, spoke in favor of continuing fluoridation and gave media interviews endorsing the practice begun in the U.S. just after World War II.
Mr. Butler, the general manager, makes no commitment about what the board will do with submitted arguments, statements and photocopies of journal articles. He suggests, however, the board will make a good faith effort to review the material.
Its next meeting is Dec. 16, the usual third Friday of the month.
‘Medicalization of water’ alleged
This writer, who drinks Hixson water from his Hixson Drive radio station tap, argues that fluoridation as an overly broad medical treatment lacking individual consent.
“Fluoridation is the medicalization of water. Water is an essential thing for all life. You are — the director[s] — 80 percent water, or so. There’s no choice in the drinking of this chemical here. You are giving a prescription, and we hear prescriptions from these fine organizations of dentists and scientists — they’re giving prescriptions for the mass. Your doctor does not give prescriptions for the mass. He gives them one by one. And if this is a medical service to benefit teeth of children, how about allowing a doctor or dentist — the fine dentists in this city whose bark is worse than their bite — let them prescribe pills and toothpaste and the like or this very fine service that fluoridation, that hydrofluorocilicic acid gives?
“My listener is very concerned about this issue. My listener and I helped the North West Utility District in Soddy-Daisy find the reasonable, cautious, careful and conservative thing to do. And in that district it was to eliminate — to get rid of it. And the board voted in July 7 to 1 against it. It was out the next day. *** There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to medical treatment. *** Let there be individual choice of all the people in this room.” (Correction: The vote was 6 to 1. Ed.)
Mr. Marter has put petitions online and around Chattanooga at places such as the Hixson Earth Fare grocery store, just across a railroad track from the utility offices. “Fluoride is toxic and unnecessary,” he declares. His video shows a closeup of a tube of toothpaste that warns that “if accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control center right away.”
— David Tulis hosts a talk show 9 to 11 a.m. weekdays at Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.