Commentary: Delaying Decision on Fluoride the Wrong Move For City

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It may be tempting to want to put off the decision on whether or not to fluoridate the city’s water supply until the decision absolutely has to be made.  After all, it figures to be a bitterly divisive and emotional issue.  With so many more pressing issues on the table from the city’s perspective, an ugly fight on fluoridation is the last thing they want.

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.

The pro-fluoridation side may be underestimating their adversary.  They argue that that the misinformation has already been addressed and corrected by national experts.  They say that there are only a few very vocal opponents who apparently either do not understand or care to be educated on this topic.

And they believe, apparently, that ultimately the issue would succeed.

But all one needs to do is look at the FIVE times that fluoridation has already come before the city of Davis, most recently in 1991, with three in the early 1960s and one in the early 1970s.  The issue has been surprisingly polarizing and pervasive.

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.

“The current WAC was asked by Council to provide a recommendation on fluoridation prior to conclusion of their work. Because the Council will be re-forming the committee as a rate advisory committee at the end of this calendar year, the current WAC action needed to take place this year,” staff notes.

However, the actual timing would occur once the water supply project is on line, since “once a decision is made to add fluoride, every water source the city draws from has to be equipped to ensure proper dosing.”  As staff explains, “We cannot add it to some wells and not others.”

As we have stated in the past, we believe any attempt to add fluoride to the water will trigger a citizens’ response that will put the matter to a vote of the people – as occurred twice in the 1960s where it was a split decision that ultimately led to it being voted down.

Frankly, we see similar dynamics at work.  There is a vocal group of opponents and a vocal group of supporters, but the larger populace is relatively unengaged on the issue.

Putting it on the ballot, particularly in a special election, would see the true believers on both sides come out, but may not engage attention from the foggy middle.

We have suggested in the past that it could be defeated outright in an election, but there is frankly a far more serious danger, at least from the perspective of the city.

The danger is that, with a court challenge and a potential ballot initiative, the issue of fluoride would get rolled up with the issue of the surface water project.

It was a relatively tight race on the water project, about a 54-46 spread, or about 1000 votes.  But city leaders wisely (from their perspective) fought to keep the issue not only off the ballot but out of the community conversation, fearing that conflating the issue of fluoridation with that of whether or not we need and should have a surface water project could be fatal to the project.

Once the issue of voter support for the surface water project was decided in the March 2013 election, the issue of fluoridation was fair game and took center stage.

The WAC held a series of meetings, first listening to the pro-fluoridation side, then the opposition.  Finally they made their decision to support adding fluoride to the water supply project.

But in the meantime, Michael Harrington, Pam Nieberg and Ernie Head have not allowed the surface water project issue to rest.  In addition to their court challenge, they have authored an initiative that requires about 1165 signatures to get on the ballot and would challenge the water rates.

However, the danger, from the perspective of the city and those favoring the surface water project, is that as long as fluoridation looms as an issue, the issue of the surface water project and fluoridation become intermeshed and conflated.

A number of people have spoken up on the Vanguard and said that it was a close call for them, but they had decided to support the surface water project.  However, had they known that would have meant fluoridation, they would have gone the other way.

Are there 500 such people in town?  Look no further than people like Alan Pryor – a strong proponent of surface water who has led the way against fluoridation.

It is a dangerous prospect from the city’s perspective.

One of the unspoken reasons why staff may be putting this issue off is that there is a lack of clear consensus from the council.  While Dan Wolk has come out in favor of fluoridation, Brett Lee has looked at alternatives, and Joe Krovoza has expressed concerns about the impact of the issue on the surface water project.

Our view is if the issue of fluoridation is allowed to linger, the opponents of the water project will be able to use fluoridation to give their fight new energy and new allies.

We do not believe their electoral efforts will prove successful, given the outcome of Measure I, but with fluoridation on the table and delayed for a few years, that might give people who might otherwise support the water project a reason for opposition.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Commentary: Delaying Decision on Fluoride the Wrong Move For City”

  1. medwoman

    David

    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.

    If the decision is deferred, the possibility of engagement of the CC with an important public health initiative at least remains on the table. If the CC decides against fluoride, where will the impetus be for addressing this major public health concern in any manner at all ? From the lack of response to my invitations to those who oppose fluoride to step up and work on a viable alternative, I think you can see what is likely to happen to these “alternative plans”. Do you doubt that those who oppose fluoride will not simply fade away once they have achieved the goal of blocking fluoridation taking with them the opportunity for a major public health benefit?

    On a slightly different note, do you doubt that even if fluoridation is turned down, that those who oppose the surface water project will not find other objections and other means to try to defeat this measure ?

  2. davisite2

    Medical history is replete with practices that at the time were trumpeted as beneficial but were found at best useless and/or harmful before being abandoned only after a too-long delay because of intrenched Establishment medical “thinking”.

  3. JustSaying

    “The danger is that, with a court challenge and a potential ballot initiative, the issue of fluoride would get rolled up with the issue of the surface water project..However, the danger, from the perspective of the city and those favoring the surface water project, is that as long as fluoridation looms as an issue, the issue of the surface water project and fluoridation become intermeshed and conflated.”

    And what do you suggest the council do to keep this from happening? Sees as though it’s too late to unring this bell so I’m not following your logic.

    And, if there’s “a lack of clear consensus from the council,” how will a foggy approval by a bare majority of the council do anything to free it from the water project? The anti-project trio will accept the fluoride approval decision and focus only on the other issues that might generate “no” votes? I don’t see that happening.

    The staff principal argument seems to be that the cost determinations will be accurate sometime down the road (and are just not-well-supported guesses at this early point). The populace will be better informed if the council decisions waits for better information.

    I’m also troubled by the quality of the other information we’re getting from the present. Both sides are adamant that science is on their side and that the other side is full of misguided liars.

    This is not an atmosphere in which a decision either way will quell the agitation and name-calling. And no decision made at this preliminary point can be considered final if the cost figures come in significantly lower or consideribly higher in a few years? What possible benefits will come from an early council opinion?

  4. Frankly

    A decision to do nothing, or delay, is still a decision… and all decisions have consequences.

    I think a delay was a bad decision, and possibly an indication that our city council may be more worried about politics than simply doing the right thing.

    But then it does seem that the tide is turning with respect to support for dumping tons of toxins in our drinking water to achieve phantom benefits. Maybe the delay is strategic in this sense. I urge those that understand the harmful stupidity of this legacy practice to continue their crusade to educate the ignorant and debate the stubborn.

    Eventually we will successfully eradicate this useless and harmful practice just as we did bloodletting.

  5. Davis Progressive

    ” ignores the fact that the surface water project only becomes “safer” if the council decides against fluoridation. “

    that’s why david had the op-ed that council needed to kill fluoridation for now.

  6. Ryan Kelly

    I don’t think tabling this decision is the wrong move for the City. Just because someone has an idea, doesn’t mean that a yes or no decision needs to be made. I see that it was complicating things unnecessarily. We just revert back to fluoridation being an idea that is floating around – like it has for decades.

  7. Ryan Kelly

    Why, because opponents of the water project and opponents of fluoridation (are they different people or are they the same people?) didn’t “win”, or didn’t “lose” with the resulting fodder for their overall campaign to stop the project that we voted on already (also a win in their eyes)?

    It’s tabled. Move on.

  8. brianriley429

    What would be so bad about the whole water project going down the drain? If it does, there would be tremendous blowback against Harrington, et al., and we can start over, pass a new project, and we could be in a better position than ever before, with Harrington’s influence curtailed.

    I think just this sort of scenario is playing out right now in the UC system. The Regents bungled very badly in selecting Napolitano, and the upshot will inevitably be that she will leave, without having done much, the Regents will be weakened, politically, and the idea of appointing politicians to be UC president will fall out of favor.

    The moral is that irrationality has consequences. Those who push irrational ideas or plans, backed by a big bankroll or perceived political standing, will suffer consequences.

  9. alanpryor

    To medwoman re: [quote]From the lack of response to my invitations to those who oppose fluoride to step up and work on a viable alternative, I think you can see what is likely to happen to these “alternative plans”. Do you doubt that those who oppose fluoride will not simply fade away once they have achieved the goal of blocking fluoridation[/quote]

    That is an inaccurate and unfair statement. Just because people have not responded to you directly after your request to begin the discussions about raising money for dental health, that does not mean the anti-fluoridation folks have abandoned that idea. In fact, the facts are quite the opposite.

    I personally spoke with the Ex Dir of Yolo First 5 several weeks ago about exploring these alternative possibilities further. I was interested in beginning discussions to see if this could work as an alternative to their first choice of fluoridation. I was told unequivocally that they first wanted wanted to see how the the Council’s eventual decision of fluoridation played out before they went down this path.

    In other words, if they can’t get fluoride as their first choice, they’d be happy to get any other money for dental health care that was otherwise offered. So, in fact, a financial helping hand was first offered by opponents of fluoridation as an alternative but the overtures were rejected because pro-fluoridationalists want to first see if they can get fluoridation approved by the Council. That is quite a different scenario than the picture you painted with your comments above. But now can you fairly blame the anti-fluoridationalists if their ardor somewhat cools because their proffered helping hand they extended to reach a compromise solution has already been pushed away?

  10. Steve Hayes

    What happened in Portland this past spring could also happen here down the road.
    From an article published in the Portland Tribune: http://portlandtribune.com/pt/…uoridation

    …. Measure 26-151 to fluoridate the water supply of the City of Portland lost by a resounding 3-2 margin, the fourth time in five tries that Portland voters have turned down the idea of fluoridating the city’s water supply.

    “At a very fundamental level, people understand that we don’t want more chemicals in our water,” said Kim Kaminsky, leader of Clean Water Portland, at a campaign party for fluoride opponents at the On Deck sports bar.

    The nonprofit Upstream Public Health brought the idea of fluoridating Portland’s water to city councilors last year, quietly building majority support on the council before the public really caught wind the fluoride issue was back on track in Portland.

    The council unanimously approved fluoridating Portland’s water last September, but the stealth campaign by supporters may have backfired.

    Fluoridation opponents, with little money or professional political help, quickly gathered enough signatures to force a public referendum on Tuesday. “In 30 days, we put together an operation to gather 43,000 signatures,” said Rick North, a member of Clean Water Portland’s steering committee.

    Portland is the last major city in the U.S. without fluoridated water, and, now that voters have spoken, will remain

  11. Davis Progressive

    reads like a rather biased piece.

    “…. Measure 26-151 to fluoridate the water supply of the City of Portland lost by a resounding 3-2 margin, the fourth time in five tries that Portland voters have turned down the idea of fluoridating the city’s water supply. “

    it is interesting that portland has tried as many times as davis, however.

  12. bviner

    [b]Not every health organization supports water fluoridation.[/b]

    American Cancer Society – [b]no[/b] to water fluoridation
    American Heart Association – [b]no[/b] to water fluoridation
    National Kidney Foundation – no to water fluoridation
    American Academy of Allergy and Immunology – [b]no [/b]to water fluoridation
    American Diabetes Association – [b]no[/b] to water fluoridation
    Society of Toxicology – [b]no [/b]to water fluoridation
    Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Activation Network – [b]no [/b]to water fluoridation
    American Psychiatric Association – [b]no [/b]to water fluoridation
    American Chiropractic Association – [b]no [/b]to water fluoridation
    American Civil Liberties Union – [b]no [/b]to water fluoridation

    How do you ignore the over 4,500 medical, dental, scientific, and environmental professionals that save signed on to the [b]Professionals Statement to End Water Fluoridation[/b] by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN)?

    “It is time for the US, and the few remaining fluoridating countries, to recognize that fluoridation is outdated, has serious risks that far outweigh any minor benefits, violates sound medical ethics and denies freedom of choice. Fluoridation must be ended now.”
    [b]About the statement: [/b]
    http://www.fluoridealert.org/researchers/professionals-statement/
    [b]Read the Statement:[/b]
    http://www.fluoridealert.org/researchers/professionals-statement/text/
    —–

  13. medwoman

    Alan

    I do not believe that what I posted was a misrepresentation or unfair. I have consistently cited you as an exception stating in several posts that both you and Brett Lee and Matt Williams have been willing to entertain alternatives.
    Do you know of anyone else from amongst the opponents who has reached out in any substantive way ? If so, I would be more than happy to acknowledge them as well.

  14. medwoman

    Frankly

    “Eventually we will successfully eradicate this useless and harmful practice just as we did bloodletting.”

    Very bad example but illustrative of how opinions change in medicine as more information is received. Turns out that ” blood letting” at least is the form using leeches has a place in burn and wound care through tissue lysis and removal. And as for removal of too much fluid which certainly is a medical necessity at times, they were on the right track but were it yet sophisticated enough to be able to effect either diuresis or exchange transfusion.

    Kind of like us not being sophisticated enough to provide universal health care within a single party payer system which would obviate the need for water fluoridation.

    Tongue only partially in cheek.

  15. ebowler

    Fluoridation will have to go away permanently before I will support the water project again. Prior to the vote, I went back and forth on the issue but ultimately supported it, only to have the water fluoridation issue appear almost immediately after it was passed.

    As far as supporting other programs designed to improve the health of our children, I might add that I am passionate about curbing the skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and dental disease along with many psychiatric/neurological disorders such as ADD/ADHD. So any program that claims to target children’s health will have to address the primary CAUSE of all of these conditions, which is diet, especially the consumption of high amounts of sugar, processed foods and refined carbohydrates. If a program does not have nutrition reform as it’s primary component, it will not gain my support. Nutrition reform includes, but is not limited to, overhauling the school lunch program as Lauren Ayers pointed out in her recent Vanguard commentary, as well as implementing policies to restrict sales of sugary drinks to children. I have suggested on this site on numerous occasions ways that the CC might go about developing such policies. Thus far I have seen no movement in that direction.

  16. Frankly

    [i]Turns out that ” blood letting” at least is the form using leeches has a place in burn and wound care through tissue lysis and removal.[/i]

    So, topical application instead of just turning on the spigot… I agree.

    [i] provide universal health care within a single party payer system[/i]

    Well that might help them get more topical fluoride, but then access and quality of care would fall so far that we would just have a lot more people dying younger, but with better teeth.

  17. JustSaying

    [quote]“Fluoridation will have to go away permanently before I will support the water project again.”[/quote]Michael Harrington will have to go away before anyone wants to talk about supporting much of anything.

  18. medwoman

    Frankly

    [quote]Well that might help them get more topical fluoride, but then access and quality of care would fall so far that we would just have a lot more people dying younger, but with better teeth.[/quote]

    And your evidence that this would happen is all those western European countries who are kicking our proverbial butts in terms of most parameters of public health including longevity ? We are currently # 33 in longevity, right ahead of Cuba, and dead last in what we typically perceive as first world countries.

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