The University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) is launching a new study to test groundwater in 11 northwest Wisconsin counties for naturally occurring fluoride and other selected metals.
The project, which was made possible by a $55,626 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, aims to test 700 water samples from privately owned wells for fluoride concentration and 111 additional samples for other metals, including arsenic, iron, manganese, aluminum, and lead.
“Many people don’t understand that fluoride is a naturally occurring element in groundwater,” said Kelsey Prihoda, LSRI researcher. “For optimal development of bones and teeth, fluoride should be at 0.7-1.5 milligrams per liter in a child’s primary drinking water source. If the level is lower than that, fluoride supplementation would be needed for prevention of tooth decay. Fluoride concentrations higher than 1.5 milligrams per liter could negatively affect tooth enamel and, for extremely high levels, result in skeletal problems. That’s why it’s important for people to know the amount of fluoride in their well water before deciding whether or not to supplement it.”
Little data currently exists about groundwater in the 11 counties of northwest Wisconsin, Prihoda said, so LSRI’s study results will be added to an online Well Water Quality Viewer created by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Center for Watershed Science and Education. Residents in the 11-county area will then be able to view a color-coded map to determine the approximate concentration of fluoride and these selected metals in their well water.
To secure the large number of water samples, LSRI is partnering with NorthLakes Community Clinic, which serves a large portion of the study area. Patients who volunteer to participate in the study will be given a free sample kit and will receive test results and resources for interpreting them.
“This is a very important public health issue, so NorthLakes Community Clinic is excited to be a partner on this research project,” said NorthLakes Community Clinic CEO Reba Rice. “Especially because fluoridation can be a controversial topic, reliable data for public education on appropriate and healthy fluoride levels is exactly what we need.”
Prihoda said in addition to the results of the study being integrated into the Well Water Quality Viewer, results will be shared at public presentations through the 11-county area. She hopes the study will raise awareness about the importance of water testing and educate the public about fluoride and other naturally-occurring elements in groundwater.
“We’re pleased to embark on this new area of research that will benefit northwest Wisconsin residents,” said Matt TenEyck, LSRI director. “This study uses a novel approach of involving the community to collect water samples. We hope the project framework we’re using will be replicable in other parts of the country so that others may benefit, as well.”
LSRI is seeking additional partners to help distribute the free sampling kits to homeowners with private wells located within the 11-county area of Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, and Washburn. For more information, contact Prihoda at firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 394-8422.