Springfield residents won’t vote at the polls to add fluoride to its public water supply in May, but the issue could be placed on the ballot in November.
Springfield city commissioners rejected this week an emergency ordinance to allow the issue to be placed on the ballot in May. The commission needed four votes for the resolution to pass as an emergency but Commissioners Kevin O’Neill and Joyce Chilton voted against it.
“I want our citizens to be able to be informed and to be able to get the information in a timely manner,” Chilton said. “Hopefully, each group will have an opportunity to educate us and the public about this issue of fluoridation for the November ballot. We’ll ask staff to bring it back.”
Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland and City Commissioners David Estrop and Rob Rue voted to allow residents to vote on the issue in May.
The Clark County Combined Health District is seeking approval from commissioners to allow residents to vote to fluoridate the public water supply in Springfield this year, which Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said will improve dental health for more than 85,000 residents.
The health district would have liked to begin the process as soon as possible because it will take a few years to get fluoride added to the water supply, Patterson said. But he understood the commissioners’ decision to wait to place the measure on the ballot.
“We’ve waited this long, so we can wait until November,” he said.
The deadline to file a ballot initiative for the November election is Aug. 8, according to the Clark County Board of Elections.
In 1969, Ohio legislators passed a law requiring fluoridation of public water supplies that serve more than 5,000 people. However Springfield voters approved being exempt from the law later that year.
Fluoridation of the public water supply was placed on the ballot in 2005 and was defeated as 57 percent of voters came out against the issue. Many of those opposed expressed concern about adding a potentially toxic chemical to Springfield’s water.
O’Neill voted against allowing the measure to reach the ballot in May because the election would cost the city about $17,000, he said.
“I don’t have a problem placing it on the ballot,” O’Neill said. “I don’t want to pay for it again.”
The fluoridation of the city’s water supply also could affect local businesses who bottle Springfield’s water, such as Reiter Dairy, O’Neill said.
About 85 percent of Ohio residents have access to fluoridated water, Patterson said. Springfield is the largest of 22 Ohio cities without fluoridated water, he said.
Several communities in Clark County, including Northridge, Medway and Park Layne, add fluoride to their water supply, which affects about 16,000 people, Patterson said.
More than 32 percent of Clark County residents have had between one and five permanent teeth removed because of tooth decay or gum disease, according to the most recent Community Health Assessment completed in 2016.
In 2015, the No. 1 complaint among patients at the Springfield Regional Medical Center emergency room was oral health pain, Patterson said. One of the best evidence-based practices to reduce that issue is to consider fluoridating the water supply in Springfield, he said.
As part of the Community Health Improvement Plan, the community set a goal to examine fluoridation of water in both Springfield and New Carlisle, Patterson said. After researching the issue, the Clark County Board of Health voted to support the issue last year, he said.
About 25 percent of cavities can be prevented with fluoridated water, Patterson said.
A $315,000 pre-fabricated building would need to be built to add the equipment to the city’s water treatment plant, Patterson said. The costs of any equipment needed to fluoridate the water would be paid for through grants from the Ohio Department of Health, he said.
Yellow Springs rejected a fluoride measure in 2011, while Xenia has rejected adding fluoride twice since 2005, according to the Fluoride Action Network, a national group that opposes fluoridated water.
Several residents spoke both in favor and against placing fluoride in Springfield’s water in a nearly hour-long debate at the commission meeting this week.
Springfield has voted twice not to add fluoride to the water supply, Springfield resident Debbie Catrow said. By adding fluoride to the water system, Springfield will be “medicating our citizens without informed consent,” she said, and have long-term consequences for the environment.
“The compounds used in fluoridated drinking water are the recovered pollution from the phosphate-fertilizer industry and are contaminated with a hazardous substance, including lead, arsenic and mercury,” she said.
She asked commissioners to consider waiting to vote on the issue until a lawsuit filed by the Fluoride Action Network and other organizations banning fluoride from being placed in public water systems was heard.
“Exposure is excessive and out-of-control for children and adults,” Catrow said.
Springfield resident and Community Health Foundation staff member Joan Elder asked commissioners to consider allowing residents to vote on the issue. The CHF board has also passed a resolution supporting fluoridate water in Springfield, she said.
“It’s the best way to prevent dental disease and the young people in our community are truly suffering with dental decay and problems with their teeth,” Elder said. “It makes it difficult for them to concentrate in school and become productive adults.”