The Lake Superior Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Superior is launching a new study to test groundwater in 11 northwest Wisconsin counties for naturally occurring fluoride and other selected metals.

The project, 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," LSRI researcher Kelsey Prihoda said. "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."

She said extremely high levels result in skeletal problems.

Prihoda said little data exists about groundwater in the 11 counties of northwest Wisconsin.

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 will then be able to view a map to determine the concentration of fluoride and metals in their well water.

Patients who volunteer to participate in the study are given a free sample kit and will receive test results and resources for interpreting them.

LSRI is seeking additional partners to help distribute the free sampling kits to homeowners with private wells in the 11 counties. For information, contact Kelsey Prihoda at kprihoda@uwsuper.edu or 715-394-8422.