Snowmass Village water district users overwhelmingly want fluoride returned to the local water system, according to results released Monday by the public accounting firm hired to tabulate ballots for the 3,099 users.
Of the 1,168 total surveys received, 753 respondents (64 percent) want fluoridated water, while 404 people (35 percent) are against its return. Eleven responses were considered neutral (either unmarked or marked both “yes” and “no”), according to Dalby Wendland & Co. of Grand Junction.
“We as a board have no other choice but to reconsider our decision,” said Joe Farrell, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District board member who was the lone fluoride supporter in the 3-1 decision made in July. Those favoring its removal were Dave Dawson, Michael Shore and Willard Humphrey.
“The whole purpose of the advisory question was to get the pulse of our paying customers, and they have clearly spoken,” Farrell added.
The board will discuss the results of the non-binding survey during its next regularly scheduled meeting, which is 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 21. The meeting has been moved to the Snowmass Club to accommodate what is anticipated to be a large crowd.
The survey, which had to be returned by Oct. 2, came at the behest of Mayor Markey Butler. During an August town council meeting she learned that many residents felt caught off guard by the water and sanitation district’s July 17 decision to stop adding fluoride to the local water supply.
“Community water fluoridation is a controversial issue. In Colorado, the choice of whether to fluoridate public water supplies is up to each water provider, as neither federal nor state law mandates community water fluoridation,” according to a press release from Dalby Wendland.
The survey further showed that 71 percent of the single-family homeowners in the district favor fluoride in the water, while only 29 percent want it out.
The local discussion has dominated water and sanitation district meetings all year, especially after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in April lowered its recommended fluoride level to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water, from what had been a range of 0.7 to 1.2, in order to prevent tooth decay.
“Opponents raise other health and ethical concerns,” the released says, noting how divisive the decision has become in Snowmass Village and elsewhere.
Since July, fluoride has been debated in public meetings, opinion pieces and letters to the editor. A statewide association representing dental practitioners also voiced its pro-fluoride support by funding local advertisements.
Farrell said he wasn’t at all surprised by the margin of pro-fluoride surveys, given that the Aspen water district’s advisory question was 3-1 in favor of continuing fluoridation and the Denver Water Board recently voted to retain it, too.
Dr. Karina Redko, a Snowmass Village dentist, said she was pleased by the results and is asking the board to listen to the people’s will.
“These results clearly indicate that our community values their oral health and trust the recommendations of public health agencies and leading medical organizations,” she said. “The water board should heavily weigh this landslide victory when voting on water fluoridation this fall.”
Tom Lankering, a 36-year valley chiropractor, said he was disappointed that the vote only reflected one-third of the district users.
“You still have quite a few members of the population not making any comments,” Lankering said. “I don’t think people realize the impact of fluoride,” which he said is classified as a neurotoxin.
“It was introduced to the public at the same time as asbestos and DDT. Those two we now know about. Fluoride was the last one standing,” said Lankering.
Farrell said in retrospect he wishes the board had undertaken the survey prior to removing fluoride from the water supply. That could have saved public outcry and expense, as the survey is estimated to have cost the district $7,000 to $10,000.
“Now we have the opportunity to correct the error and once again provide the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District customers with not only the best-tasting drinking water, but also the healthiest product as well,” Farrell said.
When asked if she believed the Colorado Dental Association’s support helped tip the scales of the advisory vote, Redko allowed, “The tremendous support received from local health professionals and the state dental association may have helped with public opinion.”
But “the professional backing of my colleagues was far more valuable than any monetary donations received,” she said. “It demonstrated that we share a common goal of community health and are willing to speak together to educate our patients on the proven health benefits of water fluoridation.”