ARCATA — The group seeking to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water can now legally collect signatures on an initiative petition.
Arcata City Manager Dan Hauser said the petition became eligible for circulation on Wednesday, having been delayed because of disagreements over the wording that have since been resolved.
The Arcata Citizens for Safe Drinking Water have 180 days to circulate the petition and must collect signatures from 10 percent of Arcata’s registered voters.
If they succeed in this, the city council can either adopt the proposed ordinance on its own or can schedule it for an election. Hauser said the earliest it could be on the ballot is November 2005.
The group seeks to repeal the city’s 1956 decision to add fluoride to its drinking water. The proposed initiative would forbid the city from adding anything to water except to make it safer to drink.
“It’s one thing for the city to determine what’s needed to kill pathogens to make water safe to drink. But it’s another for the city to decide to medicate its citizens, for whatever reason,” begins a Frequently Asked Questions document on the Arcata Citizens for Safe Drinking Water website.
The group says excess fluoride is linked to health problems and can create environmental hazards as fluoride reaches the wastewater.
The local medical and dental community has come out in opposition to the initiative, stating that the risks of fluoride have been exaggerated and are not scientifically proven.
Humboldt County low-income children have been suffering from a lack of access to dentistry for some time. The county is a federally designated dental health professional shortage area, and dentists who take Medi-Cal are particularly scarce.
County public health officials say fluoride is a crucial part of ensuring that poor children have healthy teeth. The cities of Arcata and Eureka, the Jacoby Creek area, Scotia and Hoopa are the only parts of the county with fluoridated water.
The initiative would make it illegal for the city to add any substance to the drinking water, other than to make the water safe to drink, unless the substance is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and does not contain contaminants exceeding state-established safe standards. The city attorney’s analysis says that fluoride is the only drinking water additive to be affected.
The language relating to the FDA is itself controversial, since the Environmental Protection Agency normally has jurisdiction over water. The Arcata Citizens for Safe Drinking Water says the FDA has jurisdiction over the substance being added to the water, not the water itself.
Their initiative petition states that anything added to the water “must be specifically approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration for safety and effectiveness with a margin of safety that is protective for all adverse health and cosmetic effects at all ranges of unrestricted consumption.”
Noel Hilliard, one of the creators of the initiative, said Friday that the signature-gathering would probably be off to a slow start because of the holiday season. But he said they will start gathering signatures soon and he’s confident of having enough signatures in time.
“I think there’s a lot of people that really feel that this issue needs to go to a vote of the people,” he said. “It’s highly controversial.”
Members of the health, dental and education communities who support keeping fluoride in the water are continuing to meet and working to educate the community about fluoride’s safety, Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Ann Lindsay said this week.