With all the debate on fluoridating the city’s water, one voice hadn’t weighed in — until now.
Some of Portland’s largest craft brewers say the proposed plan to add fluoride to the Bull Run water supply at a level of 0.7 parts per million will not affect the brewing process or the taste of their beer.
Still, they have concerns about public perception, since craft brewers — as well as their loyal fans — pride themselves on the quality of ingredients and the integrity of the beer-making process.
“Our customers are very concerned about it,” says Jeff Edgerton, brewmaster at Northwest Portland’s BridgePort Brewing. “A lot of them are concerned about whether fluoridation is actually a health concern.”
With all of the public health and scientific studies being tossed around by the pro- and anti- fluoridation campaigns, it’s difficult for citizens to discern the truth.
Edgerton says that as far as the beer industry is concerned, “the problem is, once it’s in the water, it stays in the water.”
The Oregon Brewers’ Guild, which represents dozens of brewers in Portland and across the state, has not taken a formal position on the issue. Brian Butenschoen, the guild’s executive director, says it’s on tap for discussion Thursday.
A public priority
Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard’s office was working this week to file a council resolution on the water fluoridation to be introduced Sept. 6, with a vote scheduled Sept. 12.
If approved, the process would likely begin in 2014, according to Water Bureau Administrator David G. Shaff, and would involve a water rate increase of 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent to fund the estimated $5 million in capital costs.
For the average customer who pays $26.64 for water per month, that’s an additional 8 to 11 cents.
The fluoridation mechanism would also take about $575,000 to maintain each year, which would add another 0.5 percent of an increase. That would take effect at least 18 to 36 months out and will be refined once the project is farther along, Shaff says.
There’s no doubt fluoridation is within the water bureau’s direct service-related functions, Shaff says. “It’s clearly a water treatment function.”
People opposed to fluoridation have promised to strike down the effort with a petition-referred measure on a 2014 ballot. An online petition on change.org has gathered 3,000 signatures against fluoridation.
“City Council was doing all these behind the scenes efforts to get their ducks in a row,” says Kim Kaminski, executive director of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water. “It’s really this backdoor effort to pass this without public knowledge and any input from the people who are going to be drinking this stuff.”
Proponents dispute that charge.
“It’s been public and they’ve known about it for a year,” says Kylie Menagh-Johnson, spokeswoman for the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition. “This has been a very public priority of many members of the coalition, talking about it on a local level, promoting it on a state level. It’s not a new thing, it’s a continuation of the same.”
Avoiding the fray
The fight against fluoridation in Portland is no surprise since so many residents are passionate about water quality — and determined to reject mandates proposed as “for the common good.”
Take the skepticism about childhood vaccinations: Portland is one of the cities with the highest rates of school immunization exemption rates in Oregon.
Take last year’s drama about a plan to cover the Mt. Tabor Reservoir or to build a filtration plant to comply with a federal clean water rules, which incited anger from water purists across the city.
North Portland’s Widmer Brothers Brewing joined in the chorus of those in opposition then. And the company is also watching the fluoridation debate closely.
“It’s a big deal for us,” says Brady Walen, Widmer’s communications manager. “We’ve been asked the question by brewers.”
The company has come to the conclusion that the level of fluoride proposed “is not going to impact the aroma or flavor of the beer, nor will it impact the process,” Walen says. “We’re not expecting any changes from the brewing side or the final product either.”
A number of large brewers in other states use their municipalities’ fluoridated water and do not try to filter out the chemical, which involves the expensive and time-consuming processes of reverse osmosis or distillation.
The website ffbeers.com tracks the fluoride content of beers, showing that some of the beer with the highest fluoride content comes from Wisconsin, at a level of 1.0 parts per million.
Milwaukee has been adding fluoride to its water since 1953, but just reduced the fluoride level from 1.1 to 0.7 parts per million. The action came after a Milwaukee alderman began lobbying to stop fluoridation, calling it “obsolete, unhealthy and a waste of money,” according to news reports.
Milwaukee’s elected leaders reached a compromise to lower the fluoride level and to post a new public warning that reads in part: “According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for infants up to 6 months of age, if tap water is fluoridated or has substantial natural fluoride (0.7 mg/L or higher) and is being used to dilute infant formula, a parent may consider using a low-fluoride alternative water source. Bottled water known to be low in fluoride is labeled as purified, deionized, demineralized, distilled or prepared by reverse osmosis. Ready-to-feed (no-mix) infant formula typically has little fluoride and may be preferable at least some of the time. If breastfeeding is not possible, parents should consult a pediatrician about an appropriate infant formula option.”
Portland’s burgeoning distillery scene, meanwhile, is staying out of the fray since fluoride in the water won’t contribute anything as far as the “mouth feel” of the product, says Lee Medoff, founder of Northwest Portland’s Bull Run Distilling Company. If anything, he says, fluoride will mean that “it’s good for your teeth now — drink more spirits.”