Fluoride will not be added to the water supply in the Albuquerque metro area, at least for now.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority board avoided voting on a resolution that would have required the utility to add fluoride to the water supply by approving a substitute measure that prohibits supplemental fluoridation until federal agencies provide final recommendations on fluoride levels.
Board members approved the substitute measure by a vote of 6-1, with board member Maggie Hart Stebbins casting the lone vote in opposition.
Supporters of fluoridation said they were disappointed that the board didn’t order fluoridation but were encouraged that the resolution calls for the board to revisit the issue when new federal guidelines are issued.
“The disappointing thing is that they have the science in front of them,” said Dr. Ron Romero, an Albuquerque dentist. “It’s not totally over yet. It allows more time for the education of policy makers.”
Hart Stebbins, a Bernalillo County commissioner, introduced a measure weeks ago that would have required the water authority to add fluoride to the water supply to a level of 0.7 parts per million. No vote was taken on Hart Stebbins’ proposal.
Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in drinking water. Natural levels in Albuquerque’s water supply range from 0.4-0.5 parts per million, the utility said.
Federal agencies have issued a proposed recommendation that communities fluoridate water to a target level of 0.7 ppm to help protect residents from tooth decay. But federal officials have not said when they will issue final recommendations.
The measure approved by the board Wednesday asks the New Mexico Congressional delegation to request expedited action on the final recommendations.
Dental and public health groups, including the state Department of Health and the New Mexico Dental Association, support fluoridation as a way of improving dental health, particularly among low-income children.
“We have high poverty rates here and a persistent lack of access” to dental care, Hart Stebbins told the board. “I think (fluoridation) is a really important dental health intervention.”
Most of the dozens of speakers on the issue Wednesday were opposed to fluoridation.
“This is a toxic waste product,” Maggie Hertel said of fluoride. “If you put fluoride in my water, you are violating my fundamental human rights.”
Chuck Logan urged board members to “err on the side of caution” and reject fluoridation.
“Let’s verify that it is safe before we poison our entire society,” he said.
Fluoridation opponents hissed and shouted catcalls when Rudy Blea, director of the state Department of Health’s oral health office, urged the board to approve fluoridation, which he called “sound public health policy for the state of New Mexico.”
Albuquerque began adding fluoride to its water supply in 1972 after a 57 percent majority of voters supported fluoridation in a citywide election in November 1970 and a District Court judge upheld the ordinance.
Water authority officials said the city’s 1970 ordinance was not adopted by the utility board in 2003 when state lawmakers created the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, replacing the city’s water division.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz, a member of the utility board, voiced opposition to fluoridation.
“There was so much conflicting information and evidence that, while it might protect teeth, it has the potential of harming the greater population,” De La Cruz said of fluoride. “The information is just not there to give us a green light and I can’t support basically medicating the entire population when the science is just not clear.”
In his comments to the board, Romero called arguments against fluoridation “junk science” and urged the board to support fluoridation.
“Primary prevention is the key, and fluoride and sealants are the best weapons we have in dental public health,” Romero said.
The fluoridation issue was reignited in 2011 when staff members at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority ended the 39-year practice of adding fluoride to the water supply.
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