After no controversy, Plant City water fluoridation starts Friday

Published Feb. 28, 2013

PLANT CITY — Fluoridated water, a bane for some across the bay, is getting a warmer reception here as officials get ready to add fluoride to the city's water for the first time on Friday.

The move will affect about 11,000 households.

Officials have talked for years about fluoridation but repeatedly put off changing the water system for budgetary reasons.

Utilities director Frank Coughenour said all that changed a couple of years ago when the city, with encouragement from Hillsborough County health experts, sought and received $386,000 in state and county grants.

The city chipped in $86,000 for construction and will pay another $30,000 to $40,000 annually for system maintenance.

Officials say it's worth it to derive fluoride's documented oral-health benefits.

"The Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention), the American Dental Association and the American Water Works Association have all endorsed it," Coughenour said.

But in Pinellas County, fluoridation has been a source of political infighting.

Under pressure from activists, Pinellas commissioners pulled their fluoride system in some areas more than a year ago, touching off a debate that lingered through last fall's election. A vote to scrap the system was reversed in November and fluoridation is set to resume Friday.

Except for a handful of calls and emails to City Hall, Plant City has seen little opposition to its fluoride plans.

"A group from California sent something in in protest of it," Mayor Michael Sparkman said. "They said it was terrible, but that's been about it."

Officials say opponents have objected to some municipalities' use of industrially derived fluoride, which will differ from the city's method of acquiring the material.

Coughenour said the city will buy fluoride mined in Spain and refined in Florida at Oviedo, northeast of Orlando.

The final product will arrive in liquid form to be added to injectors at four city water plants.

After officials flip the switch Friday morning, residents will get fluoridated water later in the day after it winds through the system.

As for taste?

"There won't be any noticeable difference," Coughenour said.

Rich Shopes can be reached at or (813) 661-2454.