Tuesday, June 19, 2001 – BOULDER – Retired dentist Henry Eaton was called a communist in this city’s first war over fluoride. Eaton’s side won – city water was fluoridated – but now the battle lines are being drawn again in Boulder and in other Front Range cities over the government’s role in keeping teeth healthy.
“There is just a tremendous feeling of deja vu,” said Eaton. “There is no middle ground when it comes to fluoride.”
Boulder voted to add fluoride to its drinking water in 1969 after Eaton and others campaigned that the substance would dramatically cut tooth decay in children.
But some are now urging officials in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins to rethink the value of fluoride and to take it out of local water systems.
Foes of fluoridation have long resented what they call “mass medication” of the public by government. They now are armed with studies that say fluoride is not that effective and could, in fact, be a health threat if ingested long enough.
“What it comes down to, is that there is no way to monitor the amount of fluoride we’re getting,” said Susan Augustoni of Superior, a nutritionist.
The arguments leave many local officials groping through piles of conflicting studies for a solution to the fluoride puzzle.
“I simply cannot tell what to do,” said Clay Fong, a member of Boulder’s Environmental Advisory Board. “I do know there is a debate that needs to happen.”
The Boulder City Council likely will take up the issue after a dozen residents debated the merits of fluoride before the environmental board last week.
The Fort Collins City Council is expected to weigh the fluoride question next year after the engineering committee of the city’s Water Board decided that fluoridation should cease.
Parents in Colorado Springs, meanwhile, are hoping to block plans to add fluoride to the water in northern and eastern portions of the city. They say they are alarmed that hydrofluosilicic acid – the type of fluoride commonly used in the country – is harvested from smokestack scrubbers at plants that produce phosphate fertilizer and contain traces of mercury, lead and arsenic.
Opposition to the general distribution of fluoride collides with long-held beliefs in the scientific community that measured doses can all but eliminate tooth decay.
The fluoride movement in the 1960s and ’70s is considered “one of the 10 most significant achievements of the 20th century,” said Chuck Stout, head of the Boulder County Health Department.
Now more than 170 million people, or 62 percent of the nation’s population, drink water with fluoride, an ion commonly found in groundwater but lacking in surface water.
The Environmental Protection Agency, American Dental Association and most public-health agencies back fluoridation as the best way to prevent cavities in the teeth of growing children of various economic backgrounds.
“Generally, poor kids who don’t have options take the biggest hit of not having fluoride in the water,” said Boulder dentist Vince Cleeves.
Eaton said he was branded a communist for pushing for fluoridation of Boulder’s water in a “very vicious campaign.”
But, he said, he’ll take the same stance should it be put up for another public vote.
“It’s a cheap, effective method to treat tooth decay,” Eaton said. “It changed the face of dentistry.”
New findings about the dangers of too much fluoride, however, can’t be ignored, say detractors. A union of scientists with the EPA, along with other independent dentists, claim it can be linked to birth defects, certain cancers and increased bone fractures in kids.
“The preponderance of evidence for fluoride surfaced in the ’40s and ’50s,” said Boulder dentist Stephen Koral. “The preponderance of evidence against it developed in the ’80s and ’90s.”