Fluoridation would hike lead and arsenic in Redding’s water — but hardly enough to violate strict state health and safety standards.
If the city went ahead with fluoridation, grants would pay for the equipment — but not the cost to run and replace it over the coming decade.
And if Redding ignores a state law ordering fluoridation, the state could take over the water system and add the chemical on its own terms.
Those and other answers to fluoridation questions emerged in a Thursday evening forum that left partisans on either side unmoved.
The city hosted the forum, which was supposed to pit Measure A supporters against opponents. Measure A forbids the city from adding chemicals to the water supply lacking federal Food and Drug Administration approval.
Opponents of Measure A generally support water fluoridation.
Most Measure A supporters don’t want the chemical in the water.
Measure A opponents pulled out of the forum Wednesday when supporters insisted on including Jeff Green, the San Diego-based anti-fluoridation activist who drafted the ballot initiative going before Redding voters.
That left City Attorney Brad Fuller, Municipal Utilities Director Phil Perry and Water Utility Manager Mike Robertson to field questions from a subdued audience of about 30.
City Manager Mike Warren explained his staffers would refuse questions asking their opinions on fluoride‘s medical benefits.
The City Council in September 2001 endorsed using public and private grants for water fluoridation equipment. But city staffers have been under a gag order since June, when Redding Citizens for Safe Drinking Water gathered the roughly 4,000 signatures needed to qualify Measure A for the Nov. 5 ballot.
State law forbids cities from taking positions on political issues, Warren explained.
The Redding-area League of Women Voters moderated the forum that let audience members pose questions anonymously.
Michel Czehatowski, who chairs Redding Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, called Thursday’s forum a good start. The group for months has asked city staffers to answer questions about fluoridation’s safety.
But he and others in the group felt they did not answer all of their questions, particularly the most technical.
Dean Germano, Shasta Community Health Center executive director, heads Citizens for Healthy Smiles, the group opposing Measure A.
Germano said he was happy to see the city address arsenic and clarify the 1995 state law ordering fluoridation in cities Redding’s size and larger.
Should the city fluoridate, it would use hydrofluosilicic acid because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to move, said Robertson, the city water utility manager.
But this phosphate fertilizer industry waste product is also extremely corrosive, he said. The city would have to replace its fluoridation equipment after seven or so years — costs already factored into the system’s ongoing expense.
Hydrofluosilicic acid is laced with lead and arsenic traces, Robertson said. The city would reject any shipment exceeding state and federal standards for the contaminants.
The arsenic in the acid at the concentrations the city would use for fluoridation are minuscule compared to what’s naturally in some of its wells, Robertson said.
A test showed fluoridation raising arsenic levels in one city well from 10.4 to 10.6 parts per billion (ppb). Arsenic in another city well coming on line is already 23 ppb — more than twice the new federal standard of 10 ppb.
Water fluoridation would cost Redding ratepayers an extra $1.08 a month per water hookup, said Perry, the municipal utilities manager. Those fees would kick in after the program’s first year.
Fuller, the city attorney, said Measure A could conflict with state law if voters approve it and the city does not fluoridate.
The state attorney general’s office has issued an opinion stating that state law trumps local ordinances. But California courts have yet to settle the matter, said Fuller. And it’s yet to force cities like Modesto — where voters recently rejected fluoridation — to follow the law.
Dr. David Nelson, a fluoride expert with the Department of Health and Human Services, told the City Council in June that the state would start enforcing the law in Redding.
But the state is still drafting the letter ordering fluoridation regardless of Measure A, an official at the Health and Human Services department confirmed this week.