There is a certain irony to suggesting on Election Day that voting on a particular issue is inappropriate. But the plan to ask Durango voters to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply is a bad idea – on several levels.
For starters, all it takes to get an issue on the city ballot is the signatures of city voters totalling 15 percent of the total votes cast in the last municipal election. That number is now 593.
Beyond that, though, the notion that a self-selected sample of the general public can make informed decisions on scientific questions or issues of medical efficacy flies in the face of common sense. That is especially so in that among people who actually are scientists – including top public health officials – there is overwhelming consensus that fluoridating water is a safe and effective way to boost dental health.
And there is more to dental health than whether a child has a cavity or two. Problems with tooth decay can affect health, so much so that oral health is sometimes referred to as a “window” into a person’s overall well-being.
All the worse, then, that removing fluoride from the municipal water supply would most directly affect those with the fewest resources. The well-to-do have regular access to dental care and can get individualized fluoride treatments and products. It is the poor who benefit the most from fluoridation and they would suffer most from ending it.
Studies have shown that fluoridation of drinking water reduces the incidence of cavities by 20 percent to 40 percent. And its effects are seen in all age groups.
Moreover the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation has been studied repeatedly and for decades. Over that time, critics have claimed it causes a series of diseases from cancer and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, however, says “no credible evidence supports an association between fluoridation and any of these conditions.”
In fact, the CDC has listed fluoridation as one of the “Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century.” Not surprisingly, the practice is endorsed by an impressive list of groups, including the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the Department of Defense and our local health department.
Why would Durango voters presume to know better? Few among us have specific training in public health, dentistry, medicine or biochemistry, let alone the credentials to challenge the world’s leading experts.
This is not a question of leadership, taxation or the general direction of government. It is a specific issue grounded in science. And it does not belong on the ballot.
One of the ballot measures on the statewide ballot would “raise the bar” for citizen initiatives that would amend the state’s Constitution. Maybe we should consider something similar for the City Charter.
In the meantime, do not sign this petition.