ORMOND BEACH — A divisive cavity-fighting mineral added in the water supply has seeped into the city’s political air.
A campaign flier being circulated by Alan Burton, who is running against Zone 1 Commissioner James Stowers, states the challenger will get fluoride out of the water if elected.
“Do you want fluoride out of your tap water in Ormond Beach?” Burton’s flier reads. Burton says he wants fluoride out of the water.
But Stowers and city officials say the matter has already been settled.
“Fluoride is going to referendum so voters have a say,” Stowers wrote Friday in a text message.
In several meetings where fluoride has been discussed, Stowers, along with other commissioners, has yet to publicly state his position on fluoride, instead voicing his support for a public vote.
Last month, commissioners directed city staff to draft an ordinance that would set the wheels in motion for a voter referendum on fluoride in the city’s water supply by the beginning of the year. City voters in 1957 favored fluoridation by a 20-vote margin.
Since then, though, communities across the nation have waged a war over fluoride. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls fluoride one of the greatest health achievements of the 20th Century that is critical to fighting tooth decay, while opponents say the chemical can harm the human body and governments are unethically medicating residents.
Earlier this year, Commissioner Troy Kent brought the issue to the commission after he sent a letter to the city’s fluoride provider, Harcros Chemicals Inc., asking for documentation that the chemical being added to the water is effective and safe for human consumption, but got no response.
The commission decided a voter referendum would be the best way to decide what to do, though it was not a part of the city agenda.
Mayor Ed Kelley said Burton is using a “non-issue” for political gain.
“That issue has been put to bed,” said Kelley, who is supporting Commissioner Stowers.
Burton said his flier was out before the commission decided on the referendum, which he said was not correctly publicized to residents.
“I don’t think you should force self-medication on a ballot,” he said.
Burton’s flier claims fluoride, along with other chemicals, are “dangerous controlled substances” and residents should be given informed consent, which means people are given information about a substance, typically a prescription drug, before taking it.
“I stand with the knowledgeable citizens of Ormond Beach for a clean, pure water supply, free of invisible but dangerous additives,” the flier reads.
Burton said if the commission decided to take fluoride out of the water, he would support Vice Mayor Bill Partington’s idea to offer a voucher program to low income residents to get topical fluoride treatments.
Ormond Beach isn’t the only Florida city where fluoride has become a political platform.
In Pinellas County, two candidates challenging incumbents for county commission seats are being backed by a group of dentists and healthcare professionals to bring fluoride back. A year ago, the county commission voted to take fluoride out of the water without having a public vote.
Local political consultant Mike Scudiero said with the election days away, candidates scramble to find ways to differentiate themselves from their opponents.
“Candidates running have to sell themselves,” he said.
Campaign contributions would suggest Stowers, an attorney who recently formed his own law firm, has solid backing in his re-election bid against Burton, who was his opponent in 2010. Stowers won the 2010 race after a recount, edging Burton, the city’s former leisure services director, by 12 votes.
The latest campaign financial reports show as of Oct. 12 Stowers had received $14,778 in contributions — more than double what Burton had collected — $6,350. One contribution to Burton is for $500 from Mercola.com Health Resources LLC. The company is run by Dr. Joseph Mercola, a controversial medical figure who is also against fluoridation.
Scudiero said it remains to be seen whether the subject of fluoridation will have an effect on the ultimate outcome of the race.
“I guess we’ll find out in a few days,” he said.