Members of the public have been waiting two years to tell the Fort Collins City Council what they think of fluoridating city water.
But the council seems to be drawing further away from a vote on fluoridation, and as it does, residents’ chances to publicly speak out on the issue are growing more doubtful.
After a study session last week, at which the council asked city staff for a recommendation on the optimal level of fluoride to be placed in water, Mayor Ray Martinez said a vote on the issue isn’t likely.
A council vote on the optimal level is improbable, Martinez said. And without a council vote, the public will have no way to address its seven members in a public comment session.
“I don’t think there’s a setting for (public comment), unless we have a vote to change something,” said Martinez, who supports keeping fluoride in the water.
He added that an adjustment in the level of fluoride does not represent a significant change, whereas removing fluoride from water does and thus would require a council vote and public comment session.
Councilman David Roy, who wants to see fluoride removed from Fort Collins water, disagrees. He said the council should take a formal vote, which would give the community an opportunity to address the fluoride issue before the council.
“I would expect that it should at least be brought forward to council for a yes or no,” Roy said. “It should not be summarily dismissed. … I fully expect that when three members of the council strongly object, that we owe it to the community to bring it to the council for comment.”
At last week’s study session, the council was divided on fluoridation. Advisory board members similarly were split — representatives from the Larimer County Board of Health and the Health District of Northern Larimer County recommended the Fort Collins continue to fluoridate its water. Meanwhile, a representative of the city’s Water Board recommended fluoride be removed.
Roy and two other council members — Marty Tharp and Eric Hamrick — urged the removal of fluoride, citing concerns for the safety of some water users.
“It’s mass medication with no regard for dosage,” Roy said late last week.
He added that hydrofluorosilicic acid, or HFS, the liquid form of fluoride that is placed in Fort Collins water, is “industrial waste.”
Council members Kurt Kastein, Karen Weitkunat and Bill Bertschy joined Martinez in arguing that fluoridated water is a cost-effective, proven cavity-fighter that helps people who cannot otherwise afford quality dental care.
Martinez said the public has had several opportunities in the last two years to send a message to the council, including at hearings held by the council-appointed Fluoride Technical Study Group.
The group reached a “consensus” conclusion that fluoride leads to a reduction in cavities and does not pose a significant risk for cancer, bone fractures, thyroid conditions or skeletal fluorosis.”
But Pati Caputto, a certified nutritionist and member of Fluoride Facts, a group against water fluoridation, said the public deserves a final opportunity to address the council.
A public comment session at a council meeting also would provide another chance for opponents to sway the council to remove fluoride from water, she said.
If the council does not hold any vote and, thus, no public comment, it would be a “misrepresentation of the process” and a “very bad way to end it,” Caputto said.
“I think all along they have not listened to us,” she said. “They don’t want public comment.”
Fluoride opponents are considering other options, too, including a drive to present the issue to voters, Caputto said.
“They are forcing health care on us that we don’t believe in,” she said.
City Manager John Fischbach was unsure if a vote would be necessary and said he would need to consult with the City Attorney’s Office.
Discussions hinge on the language that specifies the amount of fluoride the city adds to water.
Currently, there is 1 milligram of fluoride in each liter of water. City staff is likely to recommend lowering the amount.
“It could be either an administrative or a council decision,” Fischbach said.
“We’re looking at that right now.”
If it is deemed an administrative decision, no further action would be needed by the council, he said.