The city council has decided Kennewick will remain fluoride free.
More than half the people filling the council chambers erupted in cheers and applause Tuesday night after a 4-3 vote rejected a $450,000 grant to help pay for putting the substance in city water as an agent to fight tooth decay.
“God bless you all,” exclaimed Sherry Elizabeth, 37, of Kennewick after the vote. Her 9-year-old daughter Selah gave a toothy grin of approval.
Councilman Thomas Moak made the motion to accept the grant from the Washington Dental Service Foundation, quickly gaining a second from Councilwoman Margery Price.
It was futile.
Mayor Jim Beaver, Councilmen Robert Olson and Bob Parks already had declared their opposition. Councilman James Hempstead was with Moak, but Councilman Paul Parish’s no vote confirmed defeat for fluoride advocates.
“We’ll take our money somewhere else,” said Dr. Spencer Jilek, a dentist in Pasco and a member of the board of the Washington Dental Service Foundation.
The council allowed no public testimony but did permit each side to have five minutes to summarize their positions before the vote.
Craig Christian, a dentist from Richland, said he switched from being a fluoride supporter after researching its benefits and systemic effects.
“There is some dental benefit,” he said, but added that a 1999 Environmental Protection Agency study reported finding high levels of lead in the blood of children who had been receiving fluoride. “High-level scientists now say fluoride is not beneficial and causes some cancers.”
Jilek and Michael Tuohy shared their allotted time to urge fluoridation of the city water supply to about 58,000 people. “This community, more than any other in Washington, needs fluoride. It is safe and effective,” Jilek said.
“We cannot afford not to do this,” Tuohy said.
Olson peppered Jilek with questions about where the $450,000 was coming from and whether fluoride was a toxin. Olson then drilled the dentist on why proponents weren’t targeting “candy and soda pop being sold in schools” as part of the problem.
When Olson took a breather, Parks took over.
“Will fluoride prevent caries?” Parks asked. “Isn’t pop, candy and not brushing the problem? If I use fluoride does that mean I don’t have to brush my teeth?”
Jilek tried to wedge in answers, but he barely was heard because Parks didn’t allow time for a reply.
“I’m not against fluoride,” Parks said. “I use it and give it to my kids, but I’m against putting it in the water.”
Hempstead said his yes vote was based on the fact that 80 percent of the people he talked with in recent days think fluoridation is a good idea.
Parish and Price kept out of the crossfire talk.
But the mayor rushed in for final, furious last words.
“I have a real problem because it involves children, and the choice should be made by the parents of those children,” Beaver said.
The mayor also resented being given a Feb. 15 deadline by the foundation to accept the grant. “If you were really concerned about health you’d give more than two weeks,” he said.
Beaver referred to a pile of reports he pulled off the Internet as testimonials about how fluoridation has come under suspicion across the country, and studies that have shown that adding the element to municipal water has not had any effect on oral health for children.
In a final stab, the mayor expressed suspicion about the source of the grant. “Nothing’s free. So where’s the hook?” he asked. “It disturbs me it’s not on the ballot, and we’ve got this drop dead date. I’ll vote no.”
Jilek said after the vote that he wasn’t surprised. “I knew it would be tough. For them to question the validity of the foundation is ridiculous. If they’d researched us they would know that,” he said.
Jilek said the foundation has a priority list and will simply take the money someplace else in Washington.