WATSONVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday night backed a request by EPA unions calling for a congressional investigation into the possible harmful effects of adding fluoride to the water supplies of cities.
But the council stopped short of calling for a nationwide moratorium on the practice, a measure that has existed for more than 50 years to reduce tooth decay and has been considered safe by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office.
After about an hour of debate in which fluoride was compared with pesticides, the council voted 4-3 to gather more scientific information on whether drinking fluoridated water can cause bone cancer.
The resolution comes at a time when the city is awaiting the outcome of a state appellate court decision on whether it can add fluoride to its own water supply.
The vote came at the urging of a coalition of unions of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has written letters to cities across the country urging them to reconsider their fluoridation practices if they’re in the midst of carrying them out.
“This heart and soul of the EPA has recognized that this is an issue, that fluoride is dangerous, and that there’s some kind of cover-up,” said Watsonville resident Ilia Bulaich during the public hearing.
“The stuff we might be putting in our water supply is coming directly from a mining company in Florida,” he added. “It’s toxic sludge from a big phosphate company. Can you believe that? When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe it.”
Oscar Rios, who is in favor of fluoridating the city’s water, said he wished the EPA would concentrate more on issues that mattered — like calling for moratoriums on certain pesticides in farming communities akin to Watsonville.
“EPA and moratoriums? Come on!” he said. “I’d like to see a moratorium on pesticides, not fluoride.”
In 2002, the city’s voters banned the practice of adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, but the ballot initiative, which passed by 51 percent, is now being challenged in state appellate court.
By law, any cities in California with more than 10,000 water hookups must fluoridate their water supply if they have the funds to do so.
When the City Council was successful a few years ago in obtaining $1.1 million in funds from the California Dental Health Association, it became obligated to add the chemical in the name of preventing tooth decay.
Judy Doering-Nielsen, who brought Tuesday night’s resolution forward, said she thought the city’s residents should have the right to outlaw fluoridation.
“My feeling, like the thousands of others who voted against fluoride, is that if we put it in our water, it’s going to be like putting poison or arsenic in our water and bloodstreams,” said Doering-Nielsen.
The coalition of EPA unions are citing a 2001 study that concludes that pre-adolescent boys who drink fluoridated water run an unusually high risk of contracting bone cancer. The study did not say girls were at risk.
“As it is now, we’re just waiting to get word on whether we should or shouldn’t from the higher court,” said David Koch of the city’s public works and utilities.