Emerald Coast Utilities Authority members Lois Benson and Dale Perkins, both Republicans who favor keeping fluoride in the water, defeated primary challengers the who wanted to remove the chemical.
Now fluoride’s back on the campaign trail.
Engineer Dave Carlson is challenging Benson in the District 2 race. Homebuilder Scott Schroeder is running against Perkins in District 4. While Carlson and Schroeder are registered Republicans, they’re running with no party affiliation.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses fluoridation, claiming it is “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century” and a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay.
But the challengers are convinced fluoride is a health hazard, and they say removing fluoride from the drinking water is their primary reason for running.
“I know Dale Perkins. There’s nothing bad I can say about him. I used to go fishing with him,” Schroeder said. “There’s just been a refusal by the (ECUA) to look at this issue of fluoride.”
Perkins, a charter boat captain, said he supports keeping fluoride in the water because ECUA voters supported it in a 1998 referendum and the preponderance of scientific evidence and expert opinion support the health and safety of users. Fluoride has been added to the taps of some 230,000 ECUA customers since 2001.
Perkins also thinks an ECUA board member must have broad areas of concern.
“We had a huge — 24 percent — rate increase recently, and (Schroeder) didn’t attend the meeting. I opposed the rate increase,” Perkins said. “It’s his prerogative to run, but there are more issues besides fluoride.”
Perkins and Benson voted against the rate increase at the Sept. 23 ECUA meeting, but the other three members voted to approve.
In 2008, little-known, anti-fluoride candidate Elizabeth Campbell scored a political upset when she defeated pro-fluoride incumbent Logan Fink. She has continued her crusade against the additive since taking office.
If Benson and Perkins were replaced with anti-fluoride board members, Campbell and the two new members could form an anti-fluoride majority on the five-member board.
Schroeder said he decided to run for the ECUA after “a group of people” approached him about the campaign, but he wouldn’t say who. Carlson, however, said he was approached by a group called Escambia County United Against Fluoridation.
“What I am worried about is, wherever they have added fluoride to the water, they have continued to put it in for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “That’s when the connections are finally made (to health problems). … I think the people need to vote.”
Benson, an interior designer and former state legislator, said she continues to support fluoridation because of its proven ability to help prevent tooth decay and resulting health problems, especially in children.
“We haven’t had any dentists, physicians or scientists coming to us to say there’s a problem. There’s no literature indicating there’s a problem,” she said. “Until someone raises the flag with real evidence — not scare tactics — I see no reason to change.”
Voters, she said, should consider more than a candidate’s position on a single issue.
“We make a lot of different decisions about a lot of different issues. It’s a shame to narrowly define yourself,” she said. “I think when you have a board that has functioned well and has made great strides for this community, I think the referendum is about the progress we have made. I think there is plenty of evidence to keep the existing members.”