A newly-formed political-action committee in Gilbert is building a case against adding fluoride to the town’s drinking water and plans to circulate petitions aimed at taking the issue to the November 2014 ballot.
The Gilbert Safe Water Coalition, organized in June and about two dozen members strong, is focused on educating the community about fluoride and reaching out to like-minded groups, committee founder Sam Azar said.
“We’re learning that it’s not a political issue, and it’s not a party issue,” Azar said.
Voters in Portland, Ore., a city known for more-liberal leanings, rejected fluoridation in May, Azar pointed out. On the other hand, conservative “tea-party” activists helped lead a successful campaign to remove fluoride from the public water system in Pinellas County, Fla., two years ago.
“There seems to be an awakening out there, not only in our health but in politics and other avenues,” Azar. “The role of government is not to medicate people against their will.”
The Gilbert Town Council initially approved fluoridation in 2000, but a resident referendum forced an election on the issue that November. The measure passed with 54 percent of the vote, and the town began adding the cavity-fighting chemical in February 2002.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association recognize fluoridation as a safe, effective method of fighting tooth decay. The CDC proclaimed it one of the 10 greatest public-health achievements of the 20th century, and every U.S. surgeon general since the 1950s has endorsed the practice.
Critics dispute some benefits attributed to fluoride and worry about potential side effects, such as muscle pain, discolored teeth or bone damage.
Azar said his “eyes were opened” when a close family member struggled with a thyroid problem and research he found suggested fluoride could have a negative impact on the hormone-producing organ.
“Why are they putting it in the water when this could possibly be a health risk for some people?” Azar said. “There’s all kinds of good and bad about it, but I think individuals need to be able to have that choice.”
The Gilbert Safe Water Coalition has launched a Facebook page and a website, water.effx.us, but is still in the early stages of organizing, Azar said. Members of the group have called on Town Council members for support and are urging the town to put warning labels on water bills.
Councilman Eddie Cook said any effort to stop fluoridation must come from the voters, but expressed concerns about the practice from an “operational perspective.”
Cook questioned the effectiveness of fluoridation as many residents drink bottled water or have home filtration systems. He also said he’s concerned the corrosive chemicals are shortening the lifespan of the town’s water processing equipment.
The CDC contends that fluoridation is cost-effective, with an annual price of about 50 cents per person. Every dollar invested in fluoridation yields about $38 in savings for averted dental treatment costs, the organization says.
Fluoridation has been a steady source of community debate for many years, and the topic recently flared up at council meetings in Phoenix and Mesa.
Fluoride became the subject of public controversy in Gilbert last year when officials discovered the chemical had not been added at its North Water Treatment Plant for more than a year due to an equipment failure that went unreported to town management.
Gilbert dentist William Fulcher told The Republic a concentration of 1 ppm has “astronomical benefits for dental health” and said he would be concerned if fluoride is withheld from residents’ tap water.
“There’s a lot of anti-fluoridation groups out there,” Fulcher said. “For us as dentists, if you do it, that’s great … and if you don’t, oh well, you’ll just have more cavities and we’ll do more dental treatment.”