David Foster, state director of the environmental nonprofit group Clean Water Action, was surprised and somewhat concerned Tuesday when he received two emails from friends asking whether his organization was suddenly opposed to fluoridated drinking water.
The Public Utilities Committee of the Austin City Council will be considering a resolution at this afternoon’s meeting that could start the ball rolling on ending fluoridation of Austin’s drinking water. Council Member Don Zimmerman is sponsoring the resolution, but it is not clear whether other members of the committee will support that move.
The email in question was from someone using the name “Clean Water Austin” and featured pictures of babies with the headline “Tell Austin City Council ‘Stop Hurting Our Infants and Children.’” The email was determined to be from associates of former Council candidate Laura Pressley, an anti-fluoride activist.
Ron Merrill, the leader of Clean Water Austin – not to be confused with Clean Water Action – told the Austin Monitor that his group had nothing to do with the anti-fluoride movement. In fact, he was not aware that anyone else was using his organization’s name until the Monitor brought it to his attention.
Merrill’s website says, “CleanWaterAustin.org is an entirely volunteer-based effort composed of people who are passionate about the cleanliness of our waterways! We accept no funding, but willingly accept donations of time.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, Merrill posted an “important update” on the group’s website saying, “On August 18th it was brought to our attention that another group in Austin may be using our name to campaign for fluoride-free drinking water. We are not associated with this group, nor can we comment with regard to their activities and initiatives. If you receive emails from CleanWaterAustin@yahoo.com, they are not from us.”
Pressley emailed the following statement: “I was happy to lend our distribution list to get the word out about the committee meeting.” Her involvement explains why the email includes a link to PressleyForAustin.com.
She wrote, “The key challenge with respect to public health, is how to ensure consent and how to obtain the correct medical dosage (dependent upon weight, age, medical history, etc.) for those who give consent. The program of municipal water fluoridation employs neither of these two important medical criteria (dosage control and consent) which are the basis of good medical practice. The email focuses on the most vulnerable with respect to this, infants.”
Foster emailed the following statement to the Monitor: “It has come to our attention that an email went out earlier today under the name ‘Clean Water Austin’ about fluoride in drinking water. A few of our supporters who received the email have told us that they thought it might have come from Clean Water Action. In fact, it came from defeated Austin city council candidate Laura Pressley. … A quick web search for ‘Clean Water Austin’ leads to cleanwateraustin.org. We have confirmed that this web page is in no way affiliated with Pressley’s campaign, nor is it affiliated with Clean Water Action. The page says nothing about fluoride and its focus seems to be on cleaning up litter.
“Clean Water Action believes the public would be better served if Pressley’s email had made it clear that it came from her, rather than concealing its true source behind an assumed name that appears to be confusing parts of the community,” Foster concluded.