Spokane voters rejected fluoride again.
But the effort to fluoridate the city’s water came closer to succeeding than in 1969 or 1984. The latest proposal trails by 1,339 votes with some mail-in ballots still to be counted.
Supporters vowed to try again in a future election.
Voters who favored fluoride in Tuesday’s election tend to live in middle- to high-income neighborhoods such as the South Hill, the Summit Drive area and northwest Spokane, according to an analysis of the results using a computer mapping system.
Areas strongly opposed to fluoridation included northeast Spokane, and the areas around Audubon Park and Cooper Elementary School.
The race isn’t officially over, with about 10,000 absentee ballots to be counted. But the proposal trails by about 2 percentage points, and it was behind throughout election night.
“That’s still too close for comfort,” said Kateri Caron of the Fluoride Awareness Coalition. “I’m relieved it’s over. I’m relieved it’s a `no’ vote, but (the push for fluoridation) isn’t going to go away.”
In 1969, fluoridation was opposed by 65 percent of voters. The proposal lost by 13,707 votes.
Support for fluoridation increased in 1984, with 45.56 percent of voters backing it.
“We’re going to get fluoride into Spokane,” said John Robideaux of People for Healthy Teeth, the nonprofit organization that put Proposition 1 on this year’s ballot.
Voters should expect fluoridation back on the ballot in two years, said Mary Smith, chairwoman of People for Healthy Teeth.
The organization spent nearly $100,000 campaigning for water fluoridation and gathering signatures to put Proposition 1 on the ballot.
Only about $5,000 was spent by fluoride opponents.
People for Healthy Teeth’s funds came from the Washington Dental Service, the Spokane County Medical Society and other organizations and community members. Most of the money was used for polling and advertisements, Robideaux said.
Despite all the commercials and mailings, people were still confused about how fluoridation works, Robideaux said.
Smith said part of the problem was a lawsuit filed against the city and City Council over the wording of Proposition 1. Until the lawsuit was dismissed by a county Superior Court judge Oct. 10, People for Healthy Teeth couldn’t print any information about fluoridation, Smith said. The organization didn’t want to waste money in case the court ordered changes in the wording.
Next time, fluoride supporters will emphasize to voters that fluoridation can actually save money, Robideaux said. For every $1 spent on fluoridation, $80 in dental repair is saved, he said.
“That cuts the cost of fluoridation out,” Robideaux said. “The return on the investment is such a strong and compelling point.”
Opponents, many of whom believe fluoride is a toxin, argued against the proposal partially because of its cost — an estimated $1 million to install equipment and another $300,000 to maintain annually.
Diane Eve, a fluoride foe, along with her husband, Michael Southworth, spent Election Day standing on street corners with signs that said: “Fluoridation will cost millions. Vote no.”
They talked to dozens of people who expressed their support, Eve said.
With the election over, Smith hopes to work more closely with the Spokane County Health District. She wants to publicize the health benefits of fluoridation, as well as find grants from private foundations that would pay for the initial cost of fluoridating Spokane’s water. She also hopes to bring an engineer from the Centers for Disease Control to project the cost of fluoridation in Spokane. Smith thinks it would be lower than the $1 million figure estimated by the city Water Department.
It’s disappointing that Proposition 1 wasn’t passed in Spokane, Robideaux said.
“We’re faced with people who are passionate about adding anything to the water,” he said. “To their credit, for as few people as they were, they made quite a bit of noise.