HUMBOLDT – As the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District proceeds with a study on the prospect of providing drinking water fluoridation to its seven municipal customers, speakers at a hearing showed fear that the process will be tilted by influential fluoridation advocates.
The water district’s board of directors again took up the question of water fluoridation at its June 14 meeting, and the advocacy role of the county’s Public Health Branch was a focus of public comment. The support for fluoridation by county Public Health Officer Ann Lindsay, who didn’t attend, was alternately criticized and praised.
The district’s wholesale customers – the Humboldt Community Services District, the cities of Arcata and Eureka, and the communities of McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Manila and Glendale – are considering whether to have the district introduce fluoride to its water delivery. Arcata and Eureka are the only that customers that inject fluoride on their own, but having the district do it may save them money. All seven agree on doing a study to weigh the logistics and cost-benefit analysis of fluoridation.
The discussion is happening as the debate on fluoride continues, having been sparked by Arcata’s recent anti-fluoride ballot measure, which was strongly defeated. Dendra Dengler, board president of Manila’s community services district, said her agency is discussing the sponsorship of a ballot measure on fluoridation.
And during the public comment session at the water district meeting, anti-fluoride speakers outnumbered advocates. After Laura McEwen, the county health branch’s oral health coordinator, described fluoridation as “safe, effective and equitable,” McKinleyville resident Daniel Pierce characterized her as a member of a clique controlled by Lindsay.
“I have a real problem with Dr. Ann Lindsay trying to participate by saying fluoridation is good for the public health – it’s not,” Pierce said. “I see the public coming out in droves against this, and the only people that are for it are her and her little cronies that are being paid to sit here, so you can listen to them.”
Arcata resident Liz Finger questioned the contents of a letter to the municipalities written by Carol Rische, the water district’s general manager. It referred to Lindsay’s summary of the pros and cons of fluoride, which Finger described as biased. “If you look at it, it’s basically brief assertions by people who are not advocates for fluoridation and then a much lengthier response from Dr. Lindsay, who is clearly very much an advocate of water fluoridation,” she said.
But Arcata pediatrician John Sullivan praised Lindsay’s research and upheld fluoridation’s medical endorsements. “Dr. Lindsay, in her capacity as a public health officer, in my opinion, has done a very diligent job in investigating what the scientific story is on this, and that it is pretty well known – it’s been looked at for over 50 years, it’s been looked by the Institute of Medicine, it’s been looked at by about four surgeon generals, and it’s been looked at by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the World Health Organization and so on.”
Sullivan added that local pediatricians have also looked at it, and he referred to a pro-fluoridation letter signed by most of those practicing in Humboldt. Mentioning the results of Arcata’s ballot measure election, Sullivan disputed Pierce’s comments on fluoride support being limited to health department “cronies.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Rische updated board members and told them that all seven municipalities have put their support for studying fluoridation in writing. “Not for doing it, but for studying it, considering it,” she clarified. Arcata and Manila have asked that the study include analysis of future fluoride removal, Rische added.
District Boardmember Aldaron Laird, a former Arcata planning commissioner, recommended that the district avoid the job of estimating public opinion. That’s the task of each municipal agency, he said. Other boardmembers agreed, but they decided that public hearings should be held after the study’s done.