After more than an hour of testimony both extolling and denouncing the practice, the council was unable to reach consensus on the issue. When all the votes were tallied, three members were in favor of removing fluoride and three wanted to maintain the ordinance. Since taking office nearly two years ago, Mayor Gretchen Hellar has been the deciding factor on several controversial issues, and she was once again forced to make a tie-breaking vote Wednesday night.
“I decided if I was faced with this, and I am, I would vote not to remove fluoride from the water, and to commit to those people who are anti-fluoride to work with the county clerk to come up with a proper referendum or initiative to force us to actually vote on the matter,” Hellar said.
Hellar joined council members Carrie Logan, John Reuter and Helen Newton in voting to continue the ordinance, with council members John O’Hara, Michael Boge and Stephen Snedden dissenting.
Prior to the vote, the council heard impassioned pleas from citizens representing both sides of the issue. Members of the Pend Oreille Water Keepers, Sandpoint Mothers for Safe Water and North Idaho Safe Drinking Water, among others, asked the council to abandon its nearly 60-year old fluoridation program.
Some speakers cited health reasons for dissolving the ordinance, while others said they simply wanted to choose what enters their bodies. Harold Hilton of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water warned council members that they could face consequences if they allowed the program to continue.
“Since the City Council has been informed at previous meetings of the potential dangers of mass fluoridation of the population through city treatment, each and every City Council member is risking personal liability for any harm that may come to any citizen as a result of drinking the fluoride in the city water,” Hilton said.
The majority of those attending the meeting were against fluoridation, but seven residents — including multiple dentists — came out in favor of the ordinance. Sandpoint’s Pierre Bordenave took exception to fluoride being referred to as medication and asked the council to take its cues from medical professionals.
“Enough with the ‘medicating our citizens’ stuff,” Bordenave said. “The FDA does not define, nor regulate, the mineral fluoride as a drug because it is not a drug. You would need 800 percent more fluoride than what’s in our water to exceed EPA limits, and even that would not be defined as toxic.”
Three council members heard enough evidence to convince them to abandon the practice, but Newton was unmoved by the arguments against fluoride.
“Regarding forced medication and personal choice issues, I believe they are just that, personal choices,” she said. “Don’t drink the water, don’t cook with it, don’t bathe in it if you believe that it’s harmful. There are innumerable other water sources. And the ultimate choice, I suppose, is not to live in a location that fluoridates its water.”