Sumner’s water fluoridation program will soon come to a halt.
The City Council voted 7-1 Monday to stop putting fluoride in its drinking water, terminating the city’s contract with the Tacoma-Pierce County health board.
The decision means the city will lose the $122,000 it has spent to install the system, including $58,000 that would have been covered by a grant from the county Health Department. But stopping fluoridation also will save Sumner about $20,000 per year – the approximate cost of maintaining the system.
The decision also should end, or at least curtail, the sometimes bitter local debate about fluoride’s health effects.
“If there are one or two people in Sumner who have negative health effects because of fluoride, that’s not fair,” said Councilman Curt Brown. “They have no choice, and we have seen that there are other ways to get fluoride.”
Mark Evers was the only councilman to vote against the motion.
“I think we have to listen to the experts on this issue,” he said. “If we’re talking about choice, the 5-year-old kids who are coming to the dentist with cavities don’t have a choice, either.”
Councilman Mike Connor attempted to amend the motion to include a provision to bring the issue to a public vote. His amendment failed, 4-3.
About 10 members of the public also spoke before the council vote.
Though fluoridation will end immediately, the equipment will be left in place, said Bill Shoemaker, Sumner public works director. He said that about half of the money was used for design and engineering, so the city can’t recoup its losses by selling the equipment it purchased.
Monday’s vote followed an emotionally charged public hearing July 19 at which about 20 residents expressed opposition to fluoridation and about 10, including four dentists and two physicians, spoke in favor of it.
Sumner began fluoridation March 31 under orders from the health board. There were few public complaints at that time.
But the state Supreme Court overturned the order on May 13, after which a majority of the City Council came out in opposition to fluoridation. The council members said they would wait until after the public hearing to decide whether to fulfill the contract.
In 2002, the county health board ordered fluoridation for 14 local drinking water suppliers, each serving more than 5,000 consumers. Sumner and others complied, but another group of cities, including Bonney Lake and Lakewood, appealed. When the Supreme Court overruled the order, health department officials said that Sumner, Milton and two other water suppliers had signed contracts to receive grants and thus were obligated to fluoridate.
Health board officials say that fluoride helps promote oral hygiene. Some city leaders, including Mayor Barbara Skinner, have come out in favor of fluoridation, citing national evidence that it fights cavities, especially among poor children who might not get regular dental care.
Opponents say that fluoride has negative effects as well. Putting it in the city’s water, they say, will amount to forced medication.
About 300,000 people in Pierce County already have fluoride in their drinking water, including residents of Tacoma, University Place, Fircrest and military bases.