PORT ST. LUCIE — St. Lucie West residents who’ve been drinking fluoridated water for a decade could find that additive missing in the coming weeks after elected supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to stop adding fluoride to tap water if they can get around a county law requiring it.
Charles Altwein, newly elected chairman of the St. Lucie West Services District, first raised the issue of fluoridation years ago but found few sympathetic listeners.
When he read about Jensen Beach engineer Pat Arena persuading Martin County to overturn its decision to fluoridate, Altwein decided the time was right to try again. In another reversal on the additive, Stuart city commissioners decided Monday to hold off on fluoridating the city’s drinking water, as was approved by the commission four years ago, and instead will put the matter to voters in November.
“There’s a warning on toothpaste that says if you ingest too much, you should contact a poison control center,” Altwein said. “Maybe (fluoridation) was a good idea back in the 1940s, but when you have better information, it’s time to make better decisions.”
Other supervisors supported the action, leaving District Manager Charles Sweat to seek opinions on how the district can circumvent a 1989 St. Lucie County ordinance that requires any public or private water system designed to supply more than 1 million gallons of water daily to add fluoride if natural levels don’t amount to 0.8 parts per million.
Because local water supplies have about 0.3 parts of fluoride per million parts of water naturally, the city of Port St. Lucie and St. Lucie West’s utility have been injecting fluoride of roughly 0.5 parts of per million since 1995 and 1996, respectively.
One resident at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the St. Lucie West Services District suggested board members poll the utility’s 7,500 customers before taking a stance, but supervisors said they’ll ultimately have to make the decision anyway.
Despite St. Lucie County’s passage of the mandatory fluoride ordinance in 1989, it did not enforce the law against General Development Utilities, which provided central water and sewer services to Port St. Lucie residents until it was condemned and taken over by the county in 1990. The county didn’t follow its own ordinance either, leaving Port St. Lucie officials to begin adding fluoride in 1995, one year after the city acquired the utility from the county.
Altwein said it should be a simple process to opt out of the county ordinance since state water regulations do not require fluoridation. “I think it’s unconscionable that a governmental agency would dare to force mass medication on people,” Altwein said.
City officials have been approached by Arena but have taken no action to reverse their 1995 decision to begin adding trace amounts of fluoride. St. Lucie West supervisors once favored transferring their water and sewer utility to the city, but with the election of two new board members in November, that sentiment has waned.
Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to ask the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to review whether a takeover is in the community’s best interests. Supervisors hope to make a decision within three months.
OPPAGA is a special staff unit of the legislature that examines agencies and programs to improve services and cut costs when directed by state law, the presiding officers or the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.