The U.S. Center for Disease Control cites fluoridation of drinking water among the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
It took three elections to get fluoridation approved in Boulder. At one point there were so many letters to the editor, both for and against, that the Daily Camera called for a moratorium.
Groups in favor thought Boulder should join other progressive cities in fluoridating the water supply to prevent tooth decay. Opponents rejected chemical additives to their pure glacier water.
Interest in the topic was piqued after results of studies reported in the Daily Camera in 1952 revealed a high rate of tooth decay in Boulder, reportedly the result of a lack of the element fluorine in the city’s water supply. The National Institute of Dental Research conducted one study in Boulder and Colorado Springs and found Colorado Springs residents superior to Boulder’s in terms of dental health.
The variation was related to the amount of fluorine in each city’s water supply. Boulder’s natural water supply contained practically no fluorine, which was why the city was chosen for the study. Colorado Springs’ water supply had averaged 2.5 parts per million for many years.
Upon the recommendation of dentists and public health officials, the Boulder city council passed an ordinance for water fluoridation in April 1954.
Not so fast, opponents said. A referendum petition forced the issue to a vote of the people. Mr. Archibald Lacy (A.L.) Camp headed the campaign against adding fluoride with The Committee for Pure Boulder Water. Camp wrote in a letter to the editor, “I believe we have the best and purest water in the world; it is the joy and pride of beautiful Boulder.”
Camp and his ilk said adding the chemical fluorine to the public water supply was a form of mass medication with a poisonous substance and a violation of their human rights. If people really wanted this chemical for dental health, they could get it individually from their dentist, the group argued.
Proponents insisted there would be no ill effects from the addition of a small amount of the chemical and that research backed up their position.
In October 1954, the measure was defeated by 742 votes — 2,395 voted in favor of the measure, 3,137 against it.
Boulder Citizens for Good Teeth petitioned fluoridation onto the ballot again in 1964. Nearly every medical, dental and public health group in the city endorsed adding fluoride to the water supply.
The Committee for Pure Water again formed the opposition.
The Daily Camera reported that the U.S. Surgeon General sent a wire to Boulder’s acting mayor, Robert W. Knecht, supporting fluoridation. Even so, the measure was defeated for a second time, 5,975 to 4,824.
In 1969, the measure was petitioned onto the ballot once more. The Fluoride Study Group staged a series of public information meetings at which they emphasized the harmful effects of adding the chemical.
However, just before the election, the World Health Organization adopted a resolution calling on member nations to introduce fluoridation of community water supplies.
With a large voter turnout, the measure was approved by 508 votes, 5,902 to 5,394 against.
Boulder now fluoridates its drinking water to 0.9 parts per million, as recommended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.