Backers of a Marin anti-fluoridation initiative plan to set up tables at the Sunrise Center in Corte Madera on Friday afternoon to begin collecting signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
Clean Water Sonoma-Marin wants to require the Marin Municipal Water District to stop using fluoride in water until it can detail what’s in the chemical — hydrofluorosilic acid — the agency uses to fluoridate water. It also wants the district to provide a report showing that it is safe to ingest.
“There are no safety studies that we can find,” said Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh, director of Clean Water Sonoma-Marin, who is leading the effort. “The water district’s mission is to provide clean and safe drinking water. They should be able to tell us what’s in the water.”
The petition asks for a moratorium on the use of fluoridation until the data can be provided. The group has about 180 days to gather 11,000 signatures within the MMWD district, which stretches from Sausalito to San Rafael. If successful, the issue would go on the November 2016 ballot. About 190,000 are served by the water district.
“People’s mindsets have changed,” Gallagher-Stroeh said. “They want to know what they are putting into their bodies.”
For its part, the water district and its attorneys have said the agency is required to fluoridate.
“MMWD will continue to comply with all state and federal water quality regulations in effect,” said Libby Pischel, water district spokeswoman.
In 1995, Assembly Bill 733 was passed into law. The law requires public water systems that have more than 10,000 connections to provide fluoridated water as long as they don’t use ratepayer dollars. The district receives about $1 million annually in rental income and uses about $140,000 of that for fluoridation.
“Our hands are tied,” said Jack Gibson, water board president. “It’s something the law simply requires us to do.”
Fluoridation at Marin Municipal began in December 1973 after 57 percent of voters gave approval in November 1972. Opponents failed to block it in court action and through an appeal to the state Department of Health.
It was taken up again by voters in 1978 after water to five West Marin communities was overdosed accidentally with up to eight times the accepted level of fluoride for about two weeks in late 1977. In that vote, 53 percent of voters gave approval to continue fluoridation.
The North Marin Water District, which provides water to Novato and West Marin, doesn’t fluoridate its water and does not fall under the rules of AB 733.
Earlier this year, Marin Municipal lowered the amount of fluoride it puts into the drinking supply, after the federal government said some children are getting too much, causing white splotches on their teeth.
It was the first change since the government urged cities to add fluoride to water supplies to prevent tooth decay more than 50 years ago. Now, fluoride is put in toothpaste, mouthwash and other products.
Since 1962, the government has recommended a range of 0.7 milligrams per liter for warmer climates where people drink more water to 1.2 milligrams in cooler areas. The new standard is 0.7 milligrams everywhere and it was adopted by Marin Municipal as of May 1. Previously the district added 0.9 milligrams per liter of water.
The district said 0.9 milligrams is equivalent to one drop in 15 gallons, while the new standard is equivalent to one drop in 18 gallons.
One government study found about two of five adolescents had tooth streaking or spottiness. It’s primarily a cosmetic issue, said Deputy Surgeon General Boris Lushniak.
The mineral fluoride is in water and soil. About 70 years ago, scientists discovered that people whose drinking water naturally had more fluoride also had fewer cavities.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the world’s first city to add fluoride to its drinking water in 1945. Six years later, a study found a dramatic decline in tooth decay among children there, and the U.S. surgeon general endorsed water fluoridation.
Today, about 75 percent of Americans get fluoridated water.
But adding fluoride remains controversial. Opponents argue its health effects aren’t completely understood and that adding it amounts to an unwanted medication.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says water fluoridation “has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay.” The organization has recognized water fluoridation as one of the “10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
But San Rafael resident Mary Larkin, a member of Safe Water Marin, believes fluoride is dangerous. She opposes the initiative, saying the water board needs to vote to stop using the chemical on its own.
“By putting this on the ballot, it gets the MMWD off the hook,” she said. “This is harmful to our health and our kids’ health.”