The city of Fairbanks has been putting fluoride in the public water supply for 50 years. Starting Thursday, a task force will meet to evaluate whether that policy has been a good one.
In recent years, critics of the practice frequently have come before the City Council to question the long-term health effects of drinking fluoride-spiked water. Supporters said it’s a proven, time-tested way to combat tooth decay.
Councilman Jerry Cleworth said city leaders aren’t sure who to believe. That uncertainty has led to the creation of a Fluoride Task Force — a group of six scientists and medical professionals who will evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of fluoridation. The group will host an organizational meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall council chambers.
Cleworth introduced the resolution earlier this month that established the task force, which got unanimous approval from the council.
The fluoride issue constantly is simmering in Fairbanks, but Cleworth said the subject is daunting for the council. Literature about fluoride use is everywhere — in sources ranging from peer-reviewed publications to personal Web sites — but the group has had trouble separating good science from wacky claims.
“The amount of information and technicality of it is way over our heads,” Cleworth said.
Cleworth said he doesn’t have strong feelings about the issue, and that the council intentionally recruited task force members with similarly open viewpoints. They’ll get input from both local testimony and scientific research on fluoride.
The task force will be led by retired University of Alaska Fairbanks chemistry professor Paul Reichardt and will include UAF economic geology professor Rainier Newberry, dentist Bryce Taylor, former UAF dean Joan Braddock, pediatrician Beth Medford and UAF chemistry professor emeritus Dick Stolzberg.
Cleworth said a council member won’t be member of the task its scientific expertise is limited and wanted to avoid injecting politics into the effort.
Stolzberg said he’s done some preliminary research on the subject, but said he and the other task force members will be starting mostly from scratch. Although the issue has been controversial, Stolzberg said he’s eager to wade into it.
“I think this town wants to know what’s good for them,” he said. “I think it’ll be helpful to the community.”
The resolution asks for a report on the issue by early July, which would give the council enough time to place a question on the October ballot if it wants to change the fluoride policy. Cleworth said that deadline will be extended if the task force wants more time to study the issue.
The Fairbanks City Council last explored the fluoridation issue in 2008. The council voted 3-2 to maintain the city’s long-standing fluoride policy following three hours of heated public testimony.