Decision follows 90 minutes of public comment
The Snowmass Village Water & Sanitation District Board voted in a split decision Wednesday to return fluoride to the community water system serving 3,400 users. Board members said their 3-2 vote responded to the will of the people, and to the threat of recall.
“We can’t not pay attention to our customers,” said board president Joe Farrell, in reference to a non-binding survey of the district’s water users that showed 64 percent favor fluoride. “We can’t not pay attention to the medical and dental communities,” added Farrell, whose father and grandfather were both dentists.
Fluoride, a chemical additive used in the majority of U.S. public water systems, will be returned immediately to the supply after being removed on July 18, according to district manager Kit Hamby.
Its return comes after months of bitter community debate, including some that spilled over into Wednesday’s water board meeting that was moved to the Snowmass Club to accommodate the public.
At the meeting, board member Tim Belinski made the motion to have the district go back to putting fluoride in the water at its most current guidelines, which is 0.7 parts per million. Belinski also included a clause that the board “keep an open ear and keep the debate open for consideration, especially as science continues to evolve.”
Belinski, who was not present for the July 17 decision to remove fluoride, said his vote Wednesday favoring its return to the water system was borne out of his respect for the medical professionals who have provided testimony and studies.
“I recognize the trend is probably changing but I don’t feel I have the credentials to counter” others’ expertise, he said.
Michael Shore provided the swing vote in the board’s decision, after voting for fluoride’s removal in July.
“I’m personally against fluoridation but have to go with the public input,” he said. Shore cited a pair of conflicting studies published by Harvard University that only add to the debate. “There’s so much information on both sides,” he said.
Shore said he was also concerned that if the board didn’t listen to the results from the non-binding survey they could be recalled.
Board members Dave Dawson and Willard Clapper have been consistent in their opposition. Dawson said he didn’t believe the voting sample represented an accurate cross-section of the community and added the inclusion of outside money from the Colorado Dental Association for pro-fluoride advertising is wrong.
Colleague Clapper opined, “I don’t disagree (fluoride) could have benefits but I have a real hard time putting something in the water we’re not 100 percent sure is safe.”
Millennials have their say
Public and professional input at the board meeting was evenly divided. Youth was served with testimony from several millennials who said this issue won’t soon go away.
“This is talked about in my circles,” said Aspen native Reuben Sadowsky. “It’s something that will come up here, come up in Aspen. We will gain steam and fight against this (right) being taken away from us.”
Joey Stokes, who was raised in Snowmass, said, “Your directive as a water board is to provide us with clean water. Anything (beyond that) is a slippery slope.”
The fluoride issue can be as divisive within families as within the community at large. Britta Gustafson, a Snowmass Village native who is raising two children here, said “I’m on the fence really,” and has conflicting opinions about fluoride. Her remarks came shortly after her dad, Jim Gustafson, endorsed fluoride in the water system.
The first speaker during 90 minutes of public comment was Liz Stark, public health director for Pitkin County, who addressed fluoride’s attributes as an effective and affordable strategy for the population.
Stark was followed by Kristin Nelson of Aspen who said specialists in Denver found she “tested extremely toxic to fluoride.”
But dentist Ward Johnson said in 20 years of local practice he’s seen fewer than five cases of fluorosis, calling it a “non-issue.” Retired cardiologist, Dr. Morris Cohen, agreed.
“The public health department wants people healthier. They believe fluoride is the way to go. And I agree with it,” Cohen said.
Chiropractor Tom Lankering, who considers fluoride a “toxin,” said public opinions are changing about fluoride, just as they did about leaded gasoline, asbestos, cigarettes and nuclear testing.
“When you put it in the water, you are mass medicating without public consent,” he said, noting that 97 percent of Western Europe does not fluoridate.
In Colorado, 72.4 percent of the communities have access to fluoridated water, according to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Physician Kimberly Levin agreed with Lankering’s premise that fluoride “is a toxin, but the key is the concentration or the dose. At low doses, 0.7 parts/million, fluoride is safe,” she said.
In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to lower its recommended fluoride level to 0.7 milligrams/liter from its prior range of 0.7 mg to 1.2 mg/L.
For Tom Dunlop, who spent 39 years in public health in the Roaring Fork Valley, the fluoride discussion shouldn’t end with this board’s reversal of its decision.
“I encourage the investigation of scientific study to stay current of developments in this debate,” Dunlop said.