The debate over whether to remove fluoride from city drinking water surfaced before the Aberdeen City Council Wednesday night. A pharmacist advocated eliminating it from the water supply, but two dental experts and a citizen asked that the fluoride remain.
The issue was hotly contested 15 years ago before the decision was made to add it to the water supply.
“I encourage you to remove fluoride from the water,” said pharmacist Jacqueline Olson. “It’s a neurotoxin.” She also suggested that if it is not added to the water, pharmacies might contribute fluoride to those in need who want it. A pharmacist did that in Olympia, she said.
The trouble with people who oppose fluoride is they often site studies claiming “they said” responded Dr. Timothy Wandell, a Hoquiam dentist. “It is the most studied thing there is,” he said. Yes, fluoride can be toxic in high doses, but so can many chemicals, including chlorine, which is added to make sure drinking water is safe to drink, he said.
Combating new opposition to fluoride is “kind of like playing whack-a-mole,” Wandell said. He criticized opponents of fluoride who claim “they said” without citing specific sources. He discounted several allegations made by those who advocate removal. However, he also used the word “they” as a source and was pounced on by Council President Peter Schave. “Who are they?” Schave asked.
“There have been thousands of scientific studies” in favor of fluoridation, Dr. Wandell said, seeming a bit frustrated. He listed several, including the American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Wandell explained that while toothpaste has a much higher concentration of fluoride in it than water, it only applies it topically. Drinking fluoridated water allows the teeth to absorb it into the calcium, making teeth stronger, he said.
Dental health advocate Emily Firman drove from Seattle to speak in favor of fluoridation. She warned against trusting “Dr. Google” for information about the dangers of fluoride, which, she said, has been proven to be safe in more than 70 years of use.
Firman who is senior program officer for the Washington Dental Service Foundation. suggested people look up the facts on Ilikemyteeth.org — a site hosted by the American Society of Pediatrics.
Mike Dickerson of the civic group Our Aberdeen questioned whether it was right to ask fluoridation be stopped at the request of a few when it benefits the many who likely prefer having it added.
The issue was discussed at length during the council’s Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. The four committee members decided not to take immediate action so they could study the matter. Fluoride is added to the city’s water system at the lowest end of the scale permitted by the state health authorities, or 0.8 milligrams per liter, Public Works Director Malcolm Bowie said Tuesday at the committee. The water supply falls under the jurisdiction of his department.
Paling and Schave had asked the committee to look into whether the city should stop adding fluoride to the water. A private citizen asked that it be stopped, but none of the members could remember his name.
The addition of fluoride costs the city $30,000 per year and is controlled by a continuous dosing meter by remote, electronic control, Bowie said. A printed slide show from Ilikemyteeth.org, which Bowie provided “for information purposes only,” showed that, for every dollar spent on fluoridation, $38 in unnecessary dental costs is saved. Chairwoman Margo Shortt, billing herself as neutral, distributed a study she found on the Internet. The study is titled “50 reasons to oppose fluoridation.” She wanted to be balanced, she said.
That study was questioned by Arthur Andrews, who just earned his degree as a registered nurse. The authors challenged their own findings eventually, he said.
“You’ve got to read the entire study,” he said. Andrews, who is married to Councilwoman Tawni Andrews, also handed out materials from the CDC in support of fluoridation.
The committee has several options, Councilman Tim Alstrom said: to study the issue and choose not to do anything, to sponsor an ordinance revoking the one that authorizes the city to add fluoride, or revoke the law and pass another to ban the use of fluoride in the water. The committee could remain neutral or recommend a vote on the ordinance options.
While he appreciates the right to choose, Alstrom wasn’t willing to sponsor an ordinance, but would consider one sent to the committee by another council member.
Councilwoman Kathi Hoder seemed to want to let citizens choose, until she heard information from PEW Research that fluoridation of drinking water is “identified by many reputable health organizations as a measure that prevents the common chronic childhood disease of tooth decay.”
Hoder considered the effect that would have on Aberdeen’s children, many of whom are on free or reduced lunch and whose families probably couldn’t afford fluoride to add individually to water. She also did not like learning that the Sierra Club opposes fluoridation for environmental reasons. If they don’t like it, maybe she should, she said.
Councilman Alan Richrod said this was one issue where science would have to be carefully considered.
He brought up an anecdote about the Amish, who, he said, did not vaccinate their children until they decided it would be better for society at large if they did, and thereby did not endanger others with childhood diseases such as measles or polio, he said.
The committee meets Tuesdays at 4 p.m. the day before council meetings.