It had become one of the more divisive issues in the community, but despite that or perhaps because of that, there was one thing both sides agreed on Tuesday night – the council needed to go forward with the proposal to fluoridate the city’s water supply at the October 1, 2013, Davis City Council meeting.
City staff, perhaps sensing the need to cool down discussions, had recommended delaying the item until after the completion of the water project.
Staff states that they “feel” that “it would be appropriate to move Council consideration of whether to add fluoridation until after the DWWSP is constructed and has been operating at least a year. This will allow the Council to accurately assess the initial and ongoing cost for fluoridation that would be borne by the ratepayers.”
On June 27, 2013, the City of Davis Water Advisory Committee (WAC) voted to recommend to the City Council to add fluoride to the drinking water. As staff notes, during the course of the WAC deliberation, information regarding the range of potential capital, operations and maintenance cost were discussed.
Staff writes, “The estimations of capital cost to add fluoride to the City’s deep wells varies greatly depending on each well site and the type of chemical that is used to achieve fluoridation.”
As staff noted at the time, “In order to evaluate the cost of adding fluoride, two sources of information were used. One was 2009 cost estimates from Sacramento County and the other was a cost estimate for two of our deep wells, completed on June 18, 2013.”
Based on that, staff calculated, “The cost to add fluoride to our deep wells is estimated to be between $92,000 and $454,900 per well site. So to equip all six deep wells, the total cost would be between $837,000 and $2,067,400.”
However, putting off the decision, in a way, forces the worst of all worlds. As we noted, the problem is that, as long as the issue of fluoridation hangs over the water project, the water project itself – facing lawsuits and a possible initiative – might be in trouble.
While the two sides agreed on nothing substantive on Tuesday night, they agreed on moving forward with the proposal as scheduled.
“I do not agree with anything the previous speakers have said except one item, and that’s that you should go forward and consider this and make your decision now,” said Alan Pryor at Tuesday’s meeting. Mr. Pryor has been among the more outspoken opponents of the project.
Meanwhile, Tia Will, a local obstetrician/gynecologist as well as member of the Vanguard Editorial Board, stated, “It’s nice to see that Alan and I agree on something in this matter, and that’s that I’m very strongly in favor of you sticking with the October timeline for making a decision.”
Putting off the decision until after the project would simply allow the decision to fester and it might influence the water supply project, as we noted earlier this week.
As “Medwoman” noted, “It seems to me that your argument, with which I happen to agree, that delaying the decision has risks, ignores the fact that the surface water project only becomes ‘safer’ if the council decides against fluoridation.”
Medwoman is completely correct here. That may well end up being a factor that leads the council to oppose fluoridation.
Dan Wolk has publicly supported the project – but thus far he is the only one.
In a piece that appeared in the Davis Enterprise and was co-authored by Julie Gallelo, the executive director of First 5 Yolo, and Art Pimentel, the former mayor of Woodland, Mr. Wolk and others argued, “Since the mid-20th century, community water fluoridation – the careful adjustment of naturally occurring fluoride levels in water to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce dental decay – has proved to be an effective preventative public health measure, reducing tooth decay by about 25 percent over a lifetime, per the American Dental Association.”
“Across the nation, more than 70 percent of people utilize community fluoridation, according to the Centers for Disease Control,” they write. “In California, fluoridation is mandated by state law, if funds are available. And, right next door, the citizens of West Sacramento, Vacaville and Sacramento, to name a few, enjoy the benefits of fluoridated water every day. Pediatricians in Davis prescribe fluoride drops to parents to give to their children.”
“Today, Yolo County’s public health community – dentists, pediatricians, public health officials and every major, local health care provider – is united in support of community water fluoridation in Davis and Woodland,” they continue. “These are the folks who are on the front lines of combating dental disease. They know what policies work and what do not.”
They argue, as well, that “cost should not be a reason to reject fluoridation.”
But cost is not the only factor.
Brett Lee has looked into alternative delivery methods, including the idea of mobile dental units to treat disadvantaged kids, an idea that at least two other members of the council have privately told me has merit.
There are critical questions that have emerged, not only about the cost-effectiveness of the issue, but about its efficiency. How much are we spending for a product to be added to water that will largely return to the water supply, only to need to be removed before discharge?
How much fluoride will actually get on the teeth of those children who most need it?
We have not seen sufficient studies to suggest an answer. We do have the comparative studies that show that, in communities with fluoridation and those without fluoridated water, the decay rates are basically the same and follow nearly identical trendlines.
Finally, there are concerns about how safe adding fluoridation to the drinking water really is. And, while it is true that two-thirds of all communities have fluoridated drinking water, a number have recently discontinued the practice.
Many of the children most in need of fluoridation are either consuming beverages that have sugar, or bottled water rather than tap water.
The bottom line, it appears, for several councilmembers we spoke to privately is that this issue is contentious, there is no certainty that it will solve the problems that face the community and have rightly been brought forward, and it poses a risk to the surface water project.
In short, we do not believe there are three votes in favor of fluoridation at this time.
However, this conversation has not been fruitless. There appears to be a real commitment by council to deal with the issue of underprivileged children and tooth decay, and it would not surprise us to see one of the alternative proposals being examined more fully by council.
Of course, no one other than Dan Wolk and Brett Lee have made these comments public and we will have to see how the October 1, 2013, meeting unfolds.
—David M. Greenwald reporting