Austin officials are set to consider a water fluoridation proposal from a city councilman, who wants the practice to end by December.

The city has fluoridated its water for several decades, and public health officials say that it’s one of the primary ways to combat tooth decay, the Austin American-Statesman said.

But anti-fluoride activists contend that drinking the treated water can damage a person’s bones and lower intelligence levels.

Councilman Don Zimmerman said it’s “unethical” to force residents to drink fluoridated water, and his resolution is set to go before the council’s Public Utilities Committee this week. The Health and Human Services Committee also will consider the issue.

The first city to add fluoride to its water was Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945. Researchers monitored children there and in another community without a fluoridation program over 15 years, finding that those who drank the fluoridated water were less likely to experience tooth decay.

Federal officials say 67 percent of Americans drink fluoridated water, but cities across the nation have chosen not to fluoridate their water. Voters in Portland have rejected fluoridating city water four times since 1956. Residents in College Station and Elgin have voted to end the practice, and a group in San Marcos has been pushing for a vote on prohibiting water fluoridation.

Austin has fluoridated its water since 1973, after a public vote on the issue prior, though the level has changed at least once.

The Austin Water Utility last changed its target in 2008 to 0.7 milligrams per liter, which is the same level in a new recommendation the federal government finalized this summer. The previous recommendation was 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter.

The water utility adds fluorosilicic acid, which is heavily diluted, to increase the naturally occurring level of fluoride in the water, said Jane Burazer, assistant director of the utility’s treatment program.

Information from: Austin American-Statesman,