Arcata is returning to a question it asked 14 years ago: Should the city fluoridate its water?

The Arcata City Council will be voting Wednesday on whether there should be a measure on the November 2020 ballot asking residents whether or not the city should stop fluoridating its water. The item was brought forward at the request of Arcata City Councilman Paul Pitino. A measure previously appeared before voters in 2006 when almost two-thirds of Arcata citizens voted it down, but Pitino said now, “we know a little bit more.”

“People weren’t even talking about vaccines in 2006,” Pitino said.

State law requires any public water system with more than 10,000 service connections to fluoridate their water, but Pitino said Arcata has closer to 6,000.

The No. 1 reason people say fluoridating the drinking water is necessary is to prevent cavities in kids, Pitino said.

“That’s the biggest argument,” Pitino said. “Except in order for that to work, the kid’s got to drink a lot of water and you go, ‘Well, couldn’t you do it a better way?’”

But Laura McEwen, Health and Human Services program services coordinator, said “community water fluoridation has a 70-year history of being both safe and effective” and “dental disease is the most common chronic childhood disease.”

Nine years of data show about 30% of incoming kindergarteners at Arcata Elementary School have untreated tooth decay, which is “pretty good,” McEwan said.

“The average for the county is 25%,” McEwan said. “And when we start looking at other districts that don’t have fluoride, some of them are as high as 51%.”

Applying fluoride topically is a more effective way of preventing cavities than ingesting it, according to the article “The Fluoride Debate: The Pros and Cons of Fluoridation” published in the academic journal Preventative Nutrition and Food Science in September 2018. While topical fluoride in the form of toothpaste and mouthwash is effective, the article stated these methods aren’t universally affordable.

On the other hand, McEwen said fluoridating the water is “equitable so everyone who drinks the water gets the benefit.”

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention ranked water fluoridation as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.

“Fluoridation safely and inexpensively benefits both children and adults by effectively preventing tooth decay, regardless of socioeconomic status or access to care,” the CDC website states. “Fluoridation has played an important role in the reductions in tooth decay (40%-70% in children) and of tooth loss in adults (40%-60%).”

Howard Pollick, faculty at the University of California, San Francisco and chair of the state’s fluoridation advisory committee, said he’s always looking for the latest research on fluoridation and the bottom line is that it’s safe and effective.

There has been some research coming out of Canada and Mexico looking for an association between fluoride exposure and intelligence in children, but Pollick said, “there’s certainly no consensus of opinion based on this research.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set the maximum allowable concentration of fluoride in drinking water at four parts per million, but the recommended level for water fluoridation is 0.7 parts per million, Pollick said.

“That’s less than a half or a quarter of what’s recommended for the maximum amount,” he said. ” … Everything that we’re exposed to in our environment can be potentially problematic, but everything is dose-related that’s what the research confirms.”

There’s no real clear or convincing evidence or data that points to people experiencing problems when exposed to levels below 1.5 parts per million, Pollick said.

However, Pitino said European countries, which “are usually way ahead of us,” have either eliminated or never started fluoridating their water “because they were so afraid of it.”

“So you start saying, huh, maybe it’s not safe,” Pitino said.

*Original article online at