We tend to take for granted that when we turn on the tap our water is clean and safe. But is it?

Neither the FDA nor the EPA certifies water additives. Instead, the agency put in place to do the job, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), is a private entity, not a government agency, and it has admitted that it doesn't do its job when it comes to our fluoridation product, hydrofluosilicic acid (HFSA).

Measure A is on the ballot this election season to do the job the NSF refuses to do: assure that the product we use for fluoridation is safe for every person who turns on the tap. For any other water additive there are certain requirements in order to be certified under ANSI/NSF Standard 60 General Requirement 3.2.1, a standard all water additives must conform to before it is legal to add them to a public water supply.

The NSF has admitted in congressional testimony that the producers of HFSA do not provide the required documentation but are certified regardless.

So what is missing from the requirements that the producers do not divulge? For one, all toxicological studies, published or not, on this particular product and not just generic fluoride. Studies abound using refined fluoride and sterile water, but much less for HFSA. Only two toxicological studies exist and they show that HFSA increases the amount of lead in children's blood by leaching it from pipe fittings. No wonder they want to hide them.

Also missing from the required documentation is a list of contaminants in each product. HFSA comes from the pollution scrubbing devices of the phosphate fertilizer industry, it is unrefined industrial toxic waste contaminated with heavy metals, not a purified pharmaceutical grade.

Since the facilities are inspected only once a year not every batch is tested for contaminants. When it is tested, the most common contaminant found is arsenic reaching levels high enough to produce concentrations of 1.66 parts per billion (ppb) in water. That may seem insignificantly small, so for some perspective, according to the National Academy of Sciences, 0.5 parts per billion arsenic in water "presents the highest cancer risk EPA traditionally allows in tap water" (NRDC, 2000).

A study from Finland found that people drinking water with even 0.1 to 0.5 parts ppb arsenic had a 50 percent greater risk of developing bladder cancer than people drinking water with less than 0.1 ppb. While some batches test for much less than 1.66, we never know from batch to batch how much arsenic we're getting and we only test for arsenic every nine years per state requirements. Any batch, any day, we could have cancer-causing amounts of arsenic in our water because of our fluoridation product.

And finally, Measure A is asking suppliers of HFSA for assurance that its product is safe for every water customer to consume. It is known that fluorine affects certain segments of the population differently. It is known that babies should consume no fluoride; it is known that fluoride has a detrimental effect on the thyroid; and it is also known that people with kidney disease and diabetics should not consume fluoridated water. The product is sold to us as a drug, yet none of the safety assurances required of drugs are required for HFSA. A drug requires a list of side effects. Where's that list for HFSA?

Opponents of Measure A say we are anti-fluoride. We are not. Fluoride is a great tool for fighting tooth decay when used properly and according to the Centers for Disease Control fluoride works on the surface of the tooth, not from swallowing it. Measure A is about safe water for every person who turns on the tap. Since we are putting drugs in our water, votingyeson Measure A will make these companies provide the data on that drug we are putting in our water.

Katherine Kelly is a Crescent City resident and the author of Measure A on the Nov. 6 city ballot.