In the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove,” Brigadier Gen. Jack Ripper believes the Communists are using the fluoridation of water to pollute America's “precious bodily fluids.”

The general, who turns out to be stark raving mad, triggers a nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union over the issue and, presumably, global nuclear war.

Nothing like that was on the Athens City Council's agenda Monday.

The council simply considered and approved a request by Athens Water Services Manager Frank Eskridge to apply for a grant of up to $25,000 from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to replace the city's water fluoridation equipment. Eskridge told The News Courier before the meeting the city's fluoridation equipment is currently working correctly but is old and needs replacing.

Water Services applied for the grant earlier this year but did not receive one, though competition was strong. Eskridge said he received a letter a week ago inviting the city to apply again.

Some of the city's fluoridation equipment is 50 years old, said Eskridge, noting the equipment includes pumps, lines and gauges.

“They have a fairly long life but it wouldn't be bad to replace them,” he said. “The equipment has continued to function. In the absence of the grant, we will evaluate whether it needs to be replaced next year.”

Why fluoride?

Fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply to reduce tooth decay. Eskridge said part of NACCHO's mission is to promote public health, and fluoridation of drinking water is part of that mission.

“Fluoridation is shown to be an effective tool in preventing childhood dental problems,” he said.

Some people disagree with fluoridating drinking water because they believe it is unsafe.

“The American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the Alabama Department of Public Health are all solidly behind fluoridation of public drinking water,” Eskridge said.

Statistical evidence shows communities that fluoridate water have fewer incidents of childhood tooth decay, he said.

“Fluoride is a naturally occurring element in nature,” Eskridge said. “If you pull water out of a well with a pump, you will have a variety of minerals in the water that you will not have in a surface water source. We (Athens Utilities) use surface water as our source. It comes from the Elk River.”

He said where he grew up in South Carolina, the ground water had fluoride in the 4 and 5 parts per million range. Too much fluoride can cause teeth to become mottled or gray, something Eskridge said he saw growing up.

The surface water treated by Athens Utilities has no fluoride, so the utility department adds 0.7 parts per million.

“You can have drinking water that has more naturally occurring amounts of fluoride than we are adding,” he said. “In our case, we control the level very care fully, putting in just enough to do good.”

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