HASTINGS — Public fluoridation was a big loser Tuesday not only in Grand Island but across Central Nebraska.
Every other Central Nebraska town that had the issue on the ballot — Aurora, Broken Bow, Central City, Hastings, Ord, Ravenna, St. Paul, Shelton, Stromsburg and Wood River — voted to opt out of the state’s fluoride requirement.
Nowhere was the vote more emphatic than in Hastings, where three fluoride-related ballot issues all passed with at least 66 percent of the vote.
Marvin “Butch” Hughes of Hastings, who led that community’s anti-fluoride petition drives, said he was surprised and gratified to see such overwhelming support for the measures.
“I knew we had good support,” Hughes said on Wednesday. “I just didn’t realize how much.”
In addition to pushing the Hastings City Council to put the fluoride issue on the ballot, Hughes’ group, Nebraskans for Safe Water, brought two other successful initiatives to the ballot by petition.
The first will ban hydrofluorosilicic acid, the standard chemical used for municipal fluoridation, from Hastings’ water system.
The second will create the Hastings Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires the suppliers of any additives into the city’s water system — such as chlorine or any fluoride treatment — to provide complete toxicological data to the public. It also applies national water additive standards specifically to Hastings, Hughes said.
While public fluoridation was pummeled in every corner of Central Nebraska, there were a few spots in the state where it was approved, including Crete, Alma and Franklin.
But Hughes said the key to ensuring that Hastings wasn’t one of those places was in his group’s extensive one-on-one contact with voters during the petition effort.
Now, he said, his group is working to get a statewide version of the Safe Drinking Water Act into the Legislature. He also wants to work with the local Health Department and dentists to determine alternative programs to promote oral health.
“They’re going to be looking for some solutions in spite of the result of that fluoride thing,” Hughes said. “And we want to be part of that.”
Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department based in Hastings, said that, despite Tuesday’s results, her department will continue to work hard on the public’s oral health.
Public fluoridation remains a major component of that oral health strategy, Bever said, but the department will continue to work to educate the community on proper oral hygiene habits, too.
She said that working with the community — whether they’re opponents of fluoridation or not — has always been a part of that strategy.
“If there are partners in the community who want to work with us, we’d be happy to work with them,” Bever said.