MARIN MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT directors recently got another dose of public opinion.
Critics of the district’s longstanding use of fluoride in drinking water want MMWD to stop using the additive. They say it potentially does more harm than good, and people jammed a MMWD meeting room to deliver that message.
They also say they have started a petition drive that has garnered 2,000 signatures.
Rather than expecting MMWD directors to overturn voters’ twice-approved endorsement of fluoride, those who oppose it should focus on a ballot initiative. Without overriding scientific evidence that adding fluoride — even under the state’s stringent regulations — is harmful, directors have no business overturning voters’ wishes, even if they are from elections held in 1972 and again in 1978.
Marin dentists’ support for adding fluoride as an effective agent in fighting tooth decay played a big role in those votes. There has been no overwhelming evidence that dentists have changed their opinion.
MMWD officials say that even if voters had second thoughts and voted to eliminate fluoride, state law could still require its use.
A 1995 state law requires public water systems with 10,000 connections to provide fluoridated water, but they have to pay for it with income other than water rates. MMWD’s general counsel says the state attorney general could force the district to comply.
But the North Marin Water District, which is larger than the law’s threshold, doesn’t add fluoride to the water it pipes to Novato and West Marin. Also, the issue has never come to a public vote and the attorney general has not interceded.
Whether MMWD directors have any legal leeway is still being debated, but the decision over discontinuing fluoridation should rest with voters.
If directors are convinced by critics that fluoride is more risky than beneficial, they should put a measure on the ballot. They shouldn’t make that determination without first obtaining an independent scientific opinion and an open hearing process.
In 1995, the debate over fluoridation brought out numerous dental and medical associations steadfast in support of AB 733, the legislation that established the state requirement. Backers of the bill cited a number of state and federal studies that found the practice of fluoridating community water supplies is safe and effective in decreasing tooth decay in children, adults and senior citizens.
Passage of AB 733 and Marin voters’ endorsement of fluoridation in 1972 and 1978 have not quelled the debate.
MMWD directors last month got more feedback on fluoridation than they usually get from increasing rates.
But that’s not enough. It may be enough to persuade directors to take a fresh look at district policy. But the decision should be left to the voters who established the policy, not the sway of a packed meeting room or a petition reflecting a sliver of MMWD’s electorate.