Buda residents will have a chance to vote on whether the city should fluoridate its water supply in November, the City Council decided Tuesday prior to a public hearing on the issue.
More than 70 people came to the public hearing during the city’s regular meeting Tuesday, many of them with an anti-fluoride group called Buda Citizens For Safe Water.
Buda had been adding fluoride to its water since 2002 when it first became a customer of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. The authority operates the San Marcos Water Treatment Plant and stopped fluoride treatment after San Marcos residents voted to discontinue the practice in November 2015.
Buda City Council members passed a resolution in July 2015 cementing their preference to keep the fluoridation regardless, and the city had planned to restart fluoridation in January.
Tuesday’s motion to bring the issue to a vote in the November election passed 5-2 with just Eileen Altmiller and Wiley Hopkins voting against it. The results of the election will lead to a new city ordinance, council members said.
The issue of water fluoridation has historically drawn debate in the U.S., though it has the support of leading scientific and health groups. Communities in the U.S. began adding fluoride to water about 70 years ago.
The practice has been heralded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the top 10 great public health achievements in the 20th century. As of 2014, 66 percent of Americans and 79 percent of Texans were served by community water systems with fluoridated water, according to the CDC.
Opponents claim fluoride is a health risk and argue that it isn’t the role of the government to make personal health decisions for people.
Several dozen people spoke against fluoridation and a few spoke for it at the hearing Tuesday. Buda resident Tricia Quintero was one of those who spoke against fluoridation, citing concerns about negative health effects.
“The foreign agent has no place in Buda’s water supply, no place in my home, and no place in my children’s bodies,” Quintero said.
Buda resident Brandi Duncan said she found it unethical that the city would be making a medical decision for its constituents.
”Fluoridation is a form of mass medication,” Duncan said. “It deprives every individual their right to form consent.”
Jonathon Kimes, a dentist from South Austin and member of the Capital Area Dental Society, spoke in favor of fluoridation. Kimes said those who are against fluoridation “cherry pick” information to make their argument seem more credible.
“The body of evidence on this topic that has been amassed … (it) shows that (water fluoridation) does reduce tooth decay,” Kimes said.
The council vote caught many by surprise and many thanked the council for the decision. Some asked the council to go even further.
“I would just prefer to put this to rest,” said Buda resident Christine Pura.
Pura noted that there has never been a randomized, controlled trial of water fluoridation. The CDC has stated that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to design studies of water fluoridation in that way for many reasons.
For one, study subjects can be neither random — because all residents in communities that fluoridate are exposed to the mineral — nor double-blind, because both subjects and researchers tend to know whether the water has been fluoridated.
Sam Brannon, who led the successful Fluoride-Free San Marcos Coalition campaign in San Marcos, the domino that led to Buda’s reconsideration of the issue, congratulated the council on its decision.
“It was absolutely the right decision,” Brannon said. “Thank you for what you did tonight. It was a really big step.”
Amanda Bodine, a Buda resident and member of Buda Citizens For Safe Water, said after the meeting that she was pleased with the council’s decision but was not sure it would be enough. Bodine said the group will be researching whether pushing for a city charter amendment might be more permanent than an ordinance that can be easily changed by future councils.
“I do appreciate the gesture,” Bodine said about the council’s vote Tuesday. “And I think that they’ve been hearing us and they know that this is an issue that the people are passionate about.”