City Common Council members will have a decision to make during their first February meeting: applying for state aid sure to resurrect a long-forgotten controversy, or leaving the money on the table and missing out on a chance to research improving residents’ health.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, an agenda item introduced by Mike Ryan, director of the Cortland County Department of Environmental Health, will raise the issue of whether the city should apply for a $50,000 grant to study what it would take to introduce fluoride to the city’s drinking water.

“This is an opportunity to study it without having to spend the (local taxpayers’) money,” he said Friday. “We’re just going to kind of go over some of the specifics of how to apply for the grant.”

If the city decides to apply for the funding, the application would need to be submitted by mid-February, Ryan said.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in soil and water. For decades, municipalities across the United States have been adding minuscule amounts of it into their public water supplies as a preventative measure against tooth decay.
Over the past 70 years, numerous studies have linked fluoride to improved oral health — especially in children — in amounts of roughly one part per million, or 1 milligram per liter.

Other studies have linked the mineral to IQ loss, bone fractures and thyroid disorders albeit in high quantities, while some question the ethics of “mass-medicating” a population with the mineral.

The dialogue comes less than two weeks after nearly 100 local officials gathered to discuss links to fluoride and community health during the Seven Valleys Health Coalition’s annual Cortland Counts health and well-being forum on Jan. 20.
But the issue has been controversial for the city in the past.

Fluoride was behind the council’s decision to dissolve its Water Board in January 2003 after members of the semi-independent agency voted to fluoridate public water, defying a resolution which barred it from making any changes to the water supply without council approval.

Shortly afterward, the city proposed surveying residents, but the idea was tabled and never pursued. The Water Board’s motion to fluoridate was ultimately rescinded.

Today, the village of Marathon is the only municipality in Cortland County that fluoridates its water and Ryan noted he and plenty of others believe fluoridation of water is a good thing.

“Fluoride itself is controversial, but the county Health Department supports it, the New York State Health Department supports it and the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) supports it,” he said. “We feel it would be a very positive thing for this community.”

However, he strongly reiterated fluoridation is another conversation for another day. On Tuesday, he will only be asking the council to consider applying for the money to see if that’s even possible.

“It would give them (council) more information if they wanted to go further down the road,” he said. “In the end, the decision will be made by the people of Cortland.”