A Wichita lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require cities that fluoridate the water to notify users "that the latest science confirms that ingested fluoride lowers the I.Q. in children."
House Bill 2372 was offered by Rep. Steve Brunk, a Republican, who said he introduced the bill on behalf of Mark Gietzen, a conservative GOP activist and anti-abortion lobbyist also of Wichita.
But Brunk said he did not expect the bill to advance and that he had no interest in it himself.
"That was a constituent request," Brunk said. "As a courtesy, I gave him a bill introduction and told him that was as far as it goes. I'm not his champion of the cause," he said.
"I'm not aware of any interest in this bill at all (among fellow legislators). I'd be surprised if the (committee) chairman gives him a hearing."
Fluoridation has long been accepted by public health experts in the U.S. and elsewhere as an effective means to combat tooth decay, especially in children. Its use has been widespread among public water suppliers in the U.S. since the 1960s. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 74 percent of the nation relies on fluoridated water supplies. The CDC has linked public fluoridation with an increase in the incidence of dental fluorisis, a condition that can cause tooth enamel to appear streaked but is not generally considered harmful to health.
Most research on the subject has shown municipal water fluoridation to be a safe and and effective practice. There are a few scientists who say their studies suggest otherwise, and that their findings have been marginalized by the broader scientific community.
Gietzen told KHI News Service he hoped to take advantage of the recent publicity surrounding Wichita's citywide vote on whether to fluoridate its public drinking water. Voters there rejected fluoridation, just as they did previously in 1978 and 1964. Wichita is among the few larger American cities that do not fluoridate public water supplies. The cities of Topeka, Lawrence, Manhattan and dozens of others in Kansas do add the CDC-recommended amount of fluoride to driking water. Many rural water districts also provide fluoridated water to their customers.
"The momentum of the Wichita fluoride debate (is) something we want to capitalize on," Gietzen said. "With everything — asbestos, lead, thalidomide, the drug we once thought was so good — when more modern science shows you that what you thought in the past was good and now you know it's not good, you need to put the brakes on it and stop harming people."
Gietzen cited a a 2012 study co-authored by a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health that showed children in areas with high naturally occurring fluoride have significantly lower I.Q. scores than children in low-fluoride areas. He said it was that study that convinced him to vote against fluoridating Wichita's water.
"Eight months ago I didn't know how I was going to vote on the Wichita fluoride debate. I couldn't even spell fluoride, truth be known," Gietzen said. "If something opened your eyes and you realized you have knowledge of something other people are being harmed by and they didn't even know it, wouldn't you feel the obligation to at least let them know?"
The study by the Harvard researcher, however, mostly considered the effects of high levels of fluoride on brain development among children in China because that's where there are significant numbers of people exposed to high levels of fluoride, often from well water and not as the result of municipal fluoridation. The study's authors noted that it was difficult to find study subjects in other industrialized countries because children there aren't exposed to high fluoride levels in the water "even when fluoride is added to water supplies as a public health measure to reduce tooth decay."
Officials from several state agencies today briefed the media on so-called "blue-green algae" outbreaks, which they said were likely worse last summer than they have ever been.
But they said they couldn't predict how serious the problem might be this year.
"I don't think any of us really know," said Mike Tate, director of the Bureau of Water at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "It seems like a crapshoot as to where we might go this summer."
Blue-green algae are actually various types of cyanobacteria. Under certain conditions, algae blooms can form and become health hazards. Skin contact can cause allergic reactions and ingesting the infected water can cause diarrhea, vomiting and worse. Pets and livestock can die from drinking too much infected water.
Last year, blue-green algae outbreaks in public lakes killed at least five dogs and sickened at least 13 people. KDHE issued warnings at 16 lakes — three lasting most of the summer — and advisories at another four.
Lawrence and Johnson County also temporarily suspended use of Kansas River water last year due to concern that toxic cyanobacteria would move from the river into the municipal water intakes that feed some of the water treatment plants that produce drinking water.
Tate said the conditions that led to the large-scale hazardous algae blooms experienced last year were:
• Spring storms causing significant runoff into lakes;
• Long periods of hot, dry summer weather with little wind;
• Minimal water releases from the lake;
• And accumulation of pollutants in the water, primarily excess nitrogen and phosphorus commonly found in farm and lawn fertilizers.
The source of pollutants in the water varies from lake to lake, Tate said.
"It depends on the particular watershed. There are some, particularly urban lakes, where it may well be urban fertilizer from lawns that are the primary source of the nutrients. Whereas more rural reservoirs, it may be more agricultural related," he said.
Last year was the second year that KDHE issued advisories and warnings for harmful algae blooms.
Advisories mean that activities such as boating and fishing may be safe, but direct water contact should be avoided by humans and entirely by pets or livestock. Warnings mean that all water activity should be avoided, except boating where water is unlikely to splash on passengers.
Six lakes were under warning and advisory for 27 days or more in 2011. At the top end were Logan State Fishing Lake at 111 days, and Marion and Milford lakes at 91 days.
About 6 million visits were made to state parks last year, down nearly 1 million from the year before, said Steve Adams of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
"Some of that could be because of the excessive heat last summer, too — it's hard to say," Adams said.
He said park revenue fell 9 percent last year to $5.5 million. To offset the loss, the budget bill now being negotiated contains a $800,000 supplemental appropriation for the parks division.
→ More information on khi.org — including symptoms of cyanobacteria infection and how to get water from your private pond tested.