Water fluoridation took a thrashing in Spanaway Monday evening, along with health board members who failed to attend a public meeting on the subject.
The choice of refreshments wasn’t very popular, either.
About 70 people turned out for the Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department’s first community meeting on the agency’s proposal to require fluoridation of all large water systems in Pierce County. Nearly all were vehemently opposed to the idea.
Many were also angry that no one from the Board of Health – the body that will vote on the proposal – was present.
The board will take up the issue at its April 3 meeting and hear public comment then, said Darrington Forbes, the health department staff member who conducted the meeting.
But several audience members pointed out that the board meetings begin at 3 p.m., when most people are working.
“This process is not really going over too smoothly,” said Robert Hill of Tacoma. “A 3 p.m. board meeting. None of the board members are here. And there’s cookies in the back instead of fresh fruit,” he said to loud applause from the audience.
Instead of mandating water fluoridation, Hill suggested the health board exert its authority to yank soda machines from area schools as a way to reduce tooth decay.
Leland Weaver of Parkland offered another alternative to cavity prevention: “You can do exactly the same thing if you just teach the kids how to brush their teeth.”
Elsie Wescott, who lives in Puyallup, said her children developed unsightly spots on their teeth from consuming too much fluoride when they were young.
“I really want this not to be in our water,” she said.
Health department Director Federico Cruz-Uribe, known for taking unpopular public health stands, is urging the board to mandate fluoridation instead of putting it to a public vote.
Tacoma’s water is fluoridated, as is Fircrest’s and University Place’s. But most Pierce County residents still drink unfluoridated water.
Under Cruz-Uribe’s proposal, fluoridation would be phased in for all water districts serving more than 5,000 people, including Lakewood, Puyallup, Parkland, Spanaway, Milton and Bonney Lake.
Dr. Rebecca Sullivan of the health department opened the meeting by presenting statistics on what she says is an epidemic of rampant tooth decay, particularly in low-income children.
Cavity rates in school children are extremely high in many of Pierce County’s unfluoridated areas, she said, ranging from 93 percent in Graham to 88 percent in Fife and 58 percent in Bonney Lake.
But Jeff Johnson, manager of Spanaway Water Co., pointed out that in an earlier presentation Sullivan had presented data showing that 59 percent of Tacoma’s school children have tooth decay – despite more than a decade of water fluoridation.
Johnson was joined by several other water district managers and board members, most of whom said consumers should be able to vote on fluoridation, particularly since they will probably have to foot the bill.
Tom Sawyer of Firgrove Water Co. said it would cost about $600,000 to fluoridate all of the system’s wells.
Despite Monday’s one-sided turnout, Sullivan said 78 percent of people in Pierce County favor water fluoridation according to a survey commissioned by the health department this month.