Two-thirds of Redding residents surveyed favor water fluoridation if they don’t have to pay for it, a Shasta County Department of Public Health-commissioned poll shows.
Only 44.4 percent of those sampled would swallow a $1.50 monthly water rate increase to pay for the cavity-fighting strategy.
In September, the City Council endorsed a fluoride program, which includes higher water rates.
The Redding poll numbers mirror national support margins for fluoride, said Marta McKenzie, who directs the county Public Health Department and spearheads the Shasta Oral Health Task Force.
The organization of 50 health professionals and educators has lined up $1 million in grants to launch fluoridation in Redding. The Public Health Department is chipping in another $100,000.
Public health officials hired Jon Ebeling, an emeritus Chico State University political science professor, to conduct the random telephone survey at a cost of $8,000.
Ebeling, who co-founded Chico State’s Survey Research Center, sampled 511 residents over the age of 18 Oct. 27 through Wednesday. The poll results show “strong support for water fluoridation” among Redding residents, he said in a statement.
The survey didn’t wash with fluoride foes, who will ask the City Council tonight to consider banning the chemical from the municipal water supply.
“You can make statistics say anything you want,” said Michel Czahatowski, Redding Citizens for Safe Drinking Water acting chairman. “I’m sure we could come up with the same numbers in our favor.”
The 19-member grass-roots organization will propose an ordinance that keeps the city from using its water system for public health purposes. The group’s proposal goes beyond fluoride, Czahatowski said.
The council won’t act on the ordinance tonight. Instead, officials will take testimony during the public comment period at the end of the meeting.
City Manager Mike Warren rebuffed the organization’s request to put the ordinance on the agenda for consideration tonight, noting that the council has already discussed fluoridation twice.
The council in September voted 4-1 to go ahead with the program and order a study on costs. In October, it rejected a proposal from Vice Mayor Pat Kight to put the issue on the ballot.
Officials will vote on fluoride again “in the next few months,” when Public Works staffers finish the cost analysis, Warren said in a letter to Betty Doty, a Redding marriage and family counselor working with the anti-fluoride group. The council will not act on fluoride before then, he said.
Warren agreed to let the group speak during the public comment period if it would discuss safe water rather than Redding’s proposed fluoridation program.
The group’s ordinance would outlaw chemicals not meeting federal Food and Drug Administration standards for safety and effectiveness. That includes fluoride.
The Redding group is an offshoot of a San Diego-based organization that sponsors such laws statewide.
California Citizens for Safe Drinking Water formed after the state Legislature in 1995 mandated fluoridation for all cities with more than 10,000 water customers by 2000 — as long as the program did not cost local taxpayers or ratepayers. Redding’s water utility serves about 25,000.
Czahatowski, an acupuncturist and herb store owner, acknowledged that the FDA allows manufacturers to fluoridate bottled water if they list it as an ingredient.
But consumers can choose whether to buy bottled water that includes the chemical, he said. A fluoridated water supply doesn’t give them that choice.
Moreover, Redding citizens should have some say whether the chemical comes out of their taps, Czahatowski said.
The group will gather the 6,000 voter signatures it needs to put the ordinance on the ballot if the council doesn’t adopt it, he said.
Fluoride pros and foes are girding for the looming debate.
The task force has taken to the airwaves and the newspapers, doing radio shows and taking out advertisements promoting the program.
The organization has printed brochures answering common fluoridation questions, leaving them at hospitals, schools, social service agencies and City Hall, said Roxanne Burke, the Public Health Department’s community relations officer.
The task force plans a community forum on fluoridation at a still-undecided date, she said.
Citizens for Safe Drinking Water has pooled contributions from members to print about 1,500 flyers and 1,000 copies of its proposed ordinance. They hand these out at supermarkets, Czahatowski said.
The group’s core members have met twice a day for a week to brush up for tonight’s meeting, which he predicted will be “interesting.”
“There’s going to be a lot of public support out there from people who don’t wish to have a medication poured down their throat,” Czahatowski said.