Four of the eight members of the Santa Fe City Council say they will call for a voter referendum on whether the city should continue its practice of adding fluoride to the drinking water supply.
While it appeared earlier this summer that the governing body would immediately stop fluoridating water here, elected officials on the Public Utilities Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on a councilor’s proposal to stop fluoridating three years from now.
“Personally, I think the voters of Santa Fe should go to the polls in the next [municipal] election, which is in 18 months,” Councilor Bill Dimas said, “and I think the voters should decide what you want in your water — if you want fluoride or you don’t want fluoride.”
Dimas and councilors Ron Trujillo, Chris Rivera and Carmichael Dominguez said at the committee meeting that they don’t support the latest proposal from Councilor Chris Calvert to wait three years for a change in the practice, but plan to introduce a new bill soon that would put the matter on the next city ballot.
Calvert, the committee chairman, has flip-flopped on his public stance several times this summer. First, he introduced a measure intended to prepare the city for changes in the federal regulations for fluoridation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reducing its recommended therapeutic dose of fluoride in drinking water from the current range of up to 1.2 parts per million to a set level of 0.7 ppm. Calvert’s original bill would have required the city to comply with all future federal recommendations on the topic.
Then, policymakers started to shift direction. On July 11, councilors voted to stop adding fluoride to the water supply altogether — instead relying on natural levels of between 0.2 and 0.4 ppm. The 6-1 vote came after more than a dozen city residents testified that they believe the practice of fluoridation is a danger to health. The four councilors who say they want a referendum were among those who favored an immediate halt. The city has been adding fluoride to drinking water as recommended by the federal government since the 1950s as a way to decrease tooth decay, and a handful of dentists also testified before lawmakers that night in favor of continuing fluoridation.
Next, councilors rescinded their vote after the city attorney said there were technical problems with the notice for the public hearing. After that, Calvert introduced the bill for a three-year continuation of the practice, a proposal that also calls for a campaign with the Office of Oral Health to better educate parents about how to help prevent tooth decay.
City councilors have already heard hours of public testimony on the topic this year, including from those who came to a council meeting two weeks ago only to discover that a hearing on the issue had been canceled. A long line of residents, who largely oppose adding fluoride to the water system, spoke instead during a catch-all agenda item called “matters from the public.”
Only a small group appeared at Wednesday night’s Public Utilities Committee meeting, where four people provided testimony. The committee voted to send Calvert’s plan to another council committee with no recommendation. In the meantime, councilors Dominguez, Dimas, Rivera and Trujillo said they will introduce the referendum proposal at the next City Council meeting.
Ann Galloway said Wednesday that she’s part of a group that has been collecting petitions in the community against the practice of adding fluoride to city drinking water.
“We have found that people who are educated on it know the serious hazards,” she said, noting that she believes research published on the Internet gives ample data about why the city should stop following federal recommendations.
Galloway said Wednesday’s hearing was not well publicized, and she suspects councilors who supported a halt to the fluoridation have felt threatened.
Audrey Storbeck, who said she moved here from Minnesota and worked as a teacher in both states, asked that city councilors amend the language of the proposed ordinances to include the idea that the fluoride compound added to water supplies is a waste product from the aluminum industry.
“I just really want to get rid of the whole thing,” she said. “I know it’s a toxin.”
Dentist Ron Romero said much of the information presented to councilors about the perceived dangers of fluoride has been “pseudoscience” rather than legitimate research.
“This 0.7 is a therapeutic dosage recommended for [early childhood tooth decay] prevention,” he said. “I wouldn’t question the [Centers for Disease Control] because there have been over 3,000 scientific studies done, and none of them have found that fluoride is ineffective. I will tell you again that fluoride is safe and is effective and is the best way to prevent [early childhood tooth decay] that we know of.”