The Fluoride Fight…Continued

Last week I wrote about the fluoride debate taking place in Columbia, Missouri. This week I want to discuss the reaction to the story I did for KOMU about that debate.

Here is the link to the video story: Local Advocates and Protestors of Fluoride Deeply Divided

And here is the link to the web story and viewer comments.

As you can see by the comments at the bottom, which wind up taking more space than the web article itself, this issue really is deeply divided.

I know I discussed last week how it’s important with any complex issue such as fluoride for people to do their own research and decide for themselves. Connie Kacprowicz, with Columbia Water & Light, and Amy Bremer, the resident protesting fluoride, also made this point to me during their interviews.

I bring up the issue again because reading all of the comments shows how vital researching is for environmental issues.

One person commented: “The only real way to ‘preventable dental decay’ is for everyone to lower their sugar consumption, increase nutrition dense foods instead of ‘dead foods’ and practice proper oral hygiene; then tooth decay will decrease significantly. That’s what’s happened in Europe. Why do we insist on band aid solutions when the real solution is staring us in the face?”

Another writes: “Studies show that fluoride reduces cavities an additional 20-40% over and above the use of other sources of fluoride. That mean big savings in dental bills. ‘Mass medicating’?! What is all this hysteria! Please, the EPA has authority over fluoridation and considers it safe for humans and the environment.”

And these are only two of the 29 comments.

I struggled to really dive deep into this story because the issue is so polarizing. I wanted to remain unbiased and to not bring out the side that I agree with any more than the other side. What was also disappointing was my inability to further explain the issue because of time. In broadcasting, time is everything and my story was already over two minutes. This meant I didn’t have time to use the graphics showing other cities in Missouri that recently stopped using fluoride in water. I think in environmental reporting, however, this added information is important for the viewer.

By taking into consideration all of the controversy surrounding this story, I’m hoping I can do a follow-up story once the city makes its decision in February and go even further into the issue.

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Something In The Water

Adding fluoride to the water supply is a practice that began in the United States in the early 1950’s to prevent cavities and tooth decay. It’s been widely debated ever since.

The debate continues here in Columbia, Missouri, where some residents are proposing for the city to stop fluoridation. Their reasoning is fluoride causes many more health risks that outweigh the dental benefits. Some of these health risk claims include “acute toxic hazard, such as to people with impaired kidney function, as well as chronic toxic hazards of gene mutations, cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, bone pathology and dental fluorosis.”

Now, I didn’t understand many of those terms, but when I spoke with a Columbia resident who is protesting fluoridation she explained dental fluorosis a little better by saying it’s the bright white spots that we get on our teeth and those are caused at a young age from the fluoride we consume in the water. One worry she has: if fluoride can cause cosmetic stains to our teeth…what is it doing to the bones in our body? She also believes it contributes to bone cancer.

For the most part, dentists are in favor of keeping fluoride in the water system so that people that cannot afford dental care can still receive the benefits, but there are many ways in which we receive fluoride. Probably the most common is the fluoride in toothpaste.

Columbia is taking all of these claims, both for and against fluoride, into account as the health department compiles research so that city officials can come to a conclusion about whether or not to stop adding fluoride to the water.

Whatever your opinion on the issue, it is something that affects not only our health, but our environment. If the health concerns are legitimate, other communities may soon reconsider fluoridation as well. Researching both sides and keeping an open mind is the only way we can make an informed opinion.

Turkey Day The Greener Way

Many of us will enjoy turkey this Thanksgiving, but have you ever considered what turkey farmers go through to raise those birds before they reach our plate? I certainly gave it a closer look when I saw a story from the MU News Bureau about a University of Missouri engineer that developed a geothermal heating system for turkey farms.

My first thought was “Why would a turkey farm need a geothermal system?” Little did I know that turkeys need to be kept in 90 degree temperatures when they are young and at least 70 degrees when they are older. The turkeys are not as comfortable and won’t eat as well if temperatures are too low, but keeping such high temperatures must cause the utility bills for turkey farmers to spike through the roof.

Lower utility costs is one benefit of the geothermal system. The prototype farm in Cooper County Missouri is said to have cut costs in half. The researchers hope similar systems could be installed at other turkey farms by next year in time for winter.

While I think this seems like a great and innovative idea to use geothermal for agricultural purposes, I’m not sure just how practical it is for other turkey farmers to take on such a system. It may help with utility costs once it is installed, but it’s unknown if many farmers will want to go through the installation process, which is likely expensive.

Regardless of how many farmers install geothermal next year, I think this is an awesome step forward for agriculture.

Burying your carbon footprint

An interesting story dropped in my lap this week. I saw an event was being held on MU’s campus about “green burial practices”. Bill Goddard, cemetery operator for Green Acres Cemetery spoke to local Sierra Club members about green burial, which requires that everything going in the ground must be biodegradable.

This immediately sparked my interest because a couple months ago I read a fascinating article in Whole Living magazine that explained the environmental impact of modern burial and cremation practices. It says more than five million gallons of embalming fluid is used each year in the U.S.—enough to fill 8 Olympic pools. Also, just one cremation uses the energy equivalent of driving 500 miles in a car.

Wow. I consider myself an environmentally conscious person, however, I’d never thought about all of the wasted resources and energy from burial and cremation. And I’m sure most people are as oblivious as I was because these traditions are so ingrained in our society. I mean seriously, who’s going to think, “Oh that is such a waste of resources!” when they’re watching a loved-one being buried in the ground??

That being said, I do think green burial makes sense. After-all, we’ll be dead anyway right? And as Goddard says, it’s the way things were done for thousands of years.

When I interviewed Goddard he said the main reason green burial is better is simply because you’re returning to nature. Considering climate change and our lack of resources, a return to nature doesn’t sound so bad.

Organic: Is it really worth it?

This week I’ve been working on a story about the reaction of local businesses and farmers to a new study Stanford University released stating that organic foods are no more nutritious than conventionally grown foods.

What’s interesting is that this study is really a study of studies. Researchers sifted through over 200 other research papers to study difference between organic food and non-organic. Needless to say, when I interviewed a local organic farmer and the owner of Clover’s Market, an organic grocery store, the first problem they had with the study was it’s inability to point to real evidence through observing individuals in a population, rather than simply looking at past studies.

Another point they made was organic food is about more than nutrition. The soil practices organic farmers use are typically better, there are no pesticides and the food tastes better. They, and many of the media’s reports on the issue, question the validity of the study for all these reasons.

I feel the take-away is there will always be skepticism out there over whether organic foods are worth the higher price, however, it’s important for the public to really pay attention to what they read and remember the full picture. Some studies are just not as valid as others.