SANDPOINT — A long-simmering debate about the use of fluoride in the city’s drinking water might finally be boiling over, with a growing number of residents questioning the benefits and safety of the 57-year-old program.
Like most communities in America, Sandpoint began adding small batches of fluoride to its drinking water in the early 1950s to combat tooth decay. Between what is added by the city and what occurs naturally, Sandpoint’s water supply contains approximately one part per million of fluoride, according to Public Director Kody Van Dyk.
Water fluoridation has been part of the U.S. Public Health Service’s official policy since the 1950s and continues to be endorsed the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which named the practice one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Despite the accolades, water fluoridation is not universally supported. A number of national organizations question the need and safety of fluoridation and are working to end the practice. Locally, the Bonner County Republican Central Committee recently came out against fluoridation with a resolution that “urges and petitions the Sandpoint City Council members to make an immediate motion to repeal Ordinance 1034, the fluoridation of city water, and call for a recorded vote of the individual council members.”
Cornel Rasor, a Bonner County commissioner and chairman of the Republican Central Committee, said if the council does not want to decide the fate of the fluoridation program, it should at least put the matter to a city-wide vote.
“We basically have to leave it in the hands of the City Council and they have to make a decision as to whether or not they want to consider this issue. I think at this point they haven’t given it much consideration,” he said. “If people want to be mass medicated, they need to be able to make that decision.”
The Bonner County Democrats are also taking up the fluoridation issue at their Aug. 12 meeting, according to chairman Laura Bry. Despite their common interest in the subject, neither Bry nor Rasor would say whether the two groups would work together on the fluoridation issue.
Councilman Michael Boge does not oppose fluoridation, but said he would support putting the issue on November’s ballot to let the citizens of Sandpoint decide.
“If it’s on people’s radar and the community doesn’t want it, well I’m fine with that. I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “I actually think in this instance we should put it on a ballot and let the people decide.”
City water is fluoridated eight months of the year, and fluoride is never added to the lake water treatment plant, according to Van Dyk. He said adding fluoride is an inexpensive and relatively simple process, and said doing away with the program would not significantly alter the current treatment process.
Because fluoride increases the acidity of water, Van Dyk said the city also adds small levels of soda ash to adjust the water’s pH.