The Billings City Council, after hearing testimony from 56 people during a public hearing Monday night, voted to add fluoride to the city’s water supply.
Nine of the 10 council members voted for the resolution, with Dave Brown casting the lone dissenting vote. Brown made a motion to put the measure to a vote of the people, but only he and Councilwoman Shirley McDermott favored that approach.
"I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think this isn’t going to a vote of the people," McDermott said. "There is going to be a petition."
Brown has said that an issue this emotional and important to the people of Billings should be voted on by the entire community. Councilman Mark Kennedy has been supportive of the City Council’s duty to decide the issue since the resolution’s inception.
"This is something that we should decide on," Kennedy said.
"We are put up here to make decisions."
Michael Larson said the council shouldn’t feel threatened by people who asked the council Monday night to sign a statement guaranteeing that no one will be adversely affected by adding fluoride to the water.
"That’s an absurdity, that anyone with a rational mind would guarantee that nobody would have adverse effects," Larson said. "Everybody, I guess, has the right to sue us. That’s why we have a legal department."
Clayton Fiscus has said that should the council vote in favor of the resolution, he and others will attempt to get enough signatures on a petition to put it to a vote of the people.
Among the speakers who presented their opinions during the two-hour public meeting Monday night were several dentists and members of the Dental Health Task Force in Billings. Dr. Scott Manhart, a Billings dentist, said fluoride has been added to water supplies in the U.S. starting as early as 1945 and by 1960 there was enough evidence that fluoride can help reduce cavities without creating problems with toxicity.
Tom Nelson, who spoke for opponents of water fluoridation Monday night in a committee of the whole council, said he’s fought against fluoridation in two other states – New York and Utah.
"If there really is concern about our children’s teeth, why do we have candy and pop machines in our schools?" Nelson asked.
Many of those who spoke against adding fluoride to the water criticized government involvement in their private lives. Brad Molnar, of Laurel, was applauded when, as the final speaker in the public hearing, he told the council that it is not in their scope to vote on the issue of adding "medication to the water supply."
Others who had earlier argued for adding fluoride to the city water said that fluoride is not considered a medication, but rather a nutrient. Laurie Schultz, of the Dental Task Force which represents 100 physicians and dentists, urged the council to vote for fluoridation, saying "in a recent Gallup Poll, 70 percent of the people living in the Western United States say they want their water fluoridated."
The city’s water supply contains some naturally occurring fluoride, but it is not enough to be in the therapeutic range most effective at promoting health. The proposed level of fluoride is 1 part per million gallons of water. Water from the Yellowstone River contains from .2 to .6 parts per million fluoride.