As communities up and down the Front Range face off on fluoride, Fort Collins is preparing to put a team in place to tackle the contentious issue.
The move comes three months after the city’s water board recommended the city stop fluoridating its water supply.
City Manager John Fischbach has asked the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment and Poudre Health Services District to organize a committee to study the issue and hold public hearings to address community concerns.
Fischbach said he plans to make his request official at the monthly water board meeting scheduled for next week.
The water board studied the issue of fluoride this winter at the request of the City Council. In March, it unanimously recommended the city stop fluoridating the city’s water supply and not invest in facility improvements needed to keep the fluoridation program in place.
The fluoridation program began in 1967.
In its recommendation, the board said the program was too expensive, fluoride was available from a wide variety of food sources and the city shouldn’t use its water as a health delivery system.
The recommendation angered some dentists and public health officials.
The water board didn’t look at its recommendation as a public health issue, said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, executive director of the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
Tom Sanders, chairman of the water board, agreed.
“We only looked at it from the engineering perspective, not from a health (perspective),” Sanders said. “But when I look at the health perspective, I’m more convinced than ever (that fluoridation is wrong.)”
Last month, the City Council returned the report to the water board and asked the board to hold public forums on the issue and do more research.
But the water board balked at the council’s suggestion because holding forums fell outside of its assigned duties, Sanders said.
At the May water board meeting, LeBailly offered to take over the project. The county’s health board is a more appropriate board to study the issue since fluoridation is a public health concern, she said.
The health board will assemble a committee with people on both sides of the fluoride issue and conduct its own research as well as public forums, she said.
The first public forum likely will be held in August, Fischbach said. The forum would be followed by research and another forum in late fall to allow the committee to discuss its findings with the community, he said.
After the second forum and any additional research, the health board will make a formal recommendation to the council, he said.
The council then will consider both boards’ recommendations, Fischbach said.
Improvements to the water plant to keep the fluoride program in place, estimated to cost about $500,000, don’t need to be made for another year, Fischbach said.
However, the council does not need to approve the expenditure or endorse the use of fluoride for the improvements to be made, he said.
Meanwhile, fluoridation debates are surfacing in Boulder and Colorado Springs.
The Boulder City Council is expected to take up the issue after a dozen residents questioned the merits of fluoride before the city’s environmental board last week. The city voted to add fluoride to its drinking water in 1969.
Parents in Colorado Springs are hoping to block plans to add fluoride to the water in northern and eastern portions of the city. They say hydrofluosilicic acid, the type of fluoride commonly added to water, is harvested from smokestack scrubbers at plants that produce phosphate fertilizer and contain traces of mercury, lead and arsenic.