It’s been more 10 years since North Platte residents last rejected adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
Adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water was last rejected May 13, 1998. And that was the second time they rejected it.
North Platte residents first discarded the idea the first time the issue was on the ballot in May, 1978.
Fluoride has never been added to North Platte water in the town’s history.
But in the general election this fall, North Platte residents will again have to decide whether or not to add fluoride to the water supply.
A legislative bill passed last year that requires all Nebraska communities over 1,000 population to add fluoride to their water supply. The only way residents can stop the addition of fluoride is to opt out of the requirement through an election.
The goal of some state lawmakers is to reduce tooth decay. Medicaid dental programs cost as much as 50 percent less in fluoridated communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Fluoridation opponents say research shows fluoride has been linked to health problems and doesn’t necessarily prevent tooth decay.
The city’s water already contains some naturally occurring fluoride, but only about half of what state standards require. Officials believe it could cost the city as much as $150,000 initially to fluoridate the water.
Those cities with enough natural-occurring fluoride wouldn’t have to add any.
More than 942,000 people, most of Nebraska’s population, are served by 65 public water systems that add fluoride to water. Forty-one systems are naturally fluoridated.
But 64 Nebraska communities with more than 1,000 people, including North Platte, don’t add fluoride or have enough naturally occurring fluoride.
There are 66 communities in Nebraska that have fluoride in their water supplies including Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney, Holdredge and Ogallala, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. There are an additional 41 communities that have beneficial levels of fluoride occurring naturally in their water supplies.
Today, two-thirds of U.S. public drinking water is fluoridated. Many municipalities still resist the practice, disbelieving the government’s assurances of safety.
No one argues the fact that fluoride, a natural element found in groundwater, protects tooth enamel. Since 1945, municipal systems serving 170 million Americans have added fluoride, mostly in the form of hydrofluorosilicic acid, to their water, and the number of cavities have been reduced nationally.
But now fluoride is added to most toothpastes on the market and because toothpaste is designed to be spit out, many people believe it’s a more efficient way to get fluoride on your teeth.
What has also changed since 1945 is how much toxicologists know about the harmful effects of fluoride compounds. Ingested in high doses, fluoride is indisputably toxic; it was once commonly used in rat poison. Hydrogen fluoride is regulated as a hazardous pollutant in emissions from chemical plants and has been linked to respiratory illness. Even in toothpaste, sodium fluoride is a health concern. In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration toughened the warning on every toothpaste tube to read, “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison-control center right away.”
The debate over the positives and negatives of the addition of fluoride to drinking water has raged on for more than half a century. Surveys done by water companies across the United States have indicated an even split between opponents and supporters of the practice.
And for the third time in 30 years, North Platte residents will once again get to decide whether they want it or not.
The question of whether or not to add fluoride to North Platte’s water supply will before voters in the Nov. 4 general election, but at least one North Platte city council member is concerned that the wording of the question may be confusing.
“When you vote a ‘yes’ means ‘no’ and ‘no’ means ‘yes,’” council member Dan McGuire said during discussion of the issue at the July 1 council meeting.
The wording of a resolution placed before the council to set up the November vote worried McGuire, who said the state statute calls for placing an actual ordinance on the ballot.
The question on the ballot reads as follows:
“Shall the City of North Platte, Nebraska, adopt an ordinance to prohibit the addition of fluoride to the City’s water system?
___ Yes (To prohibit fluoride from the water system)
___ No (Against the prohibition of fluoride from the water system)”
So, to vote against fluoridation, a voter must mark ‘yes’ and to vote for fluoridation, a voter must mark ‘no.’
Because of the semantic discrepancy, the council discussed changing the language but City Attorney Doug Stack said he felt it wouldn’t help much.
The resolution was prepared by the Nebraska League of Municipalities, and is being used by other communities, said Stack.
Some groups believe the wording on the ballot will confuse voters.
In Hastings, Nebraskans for Safe Water complained that the ballot does not explain what kind of fluoride is being considered for the city’s water system. That group is now circulating its own petition to get 2,142 signatures to change the wording on their local ballot.
The group wants to ban the type of fluoride called “hydrofluorosilicic acid” in the city’s water.
The resolution passed by the city refers only to “fluoride,” but the group is concerned especially about potential health risks in hydrofluorosilicic acid. They say there are no long-term toxicological studies on the effects of that form of fluoride.
The group says that most people understand fluoride as the more common calcium fluoride or sodium fluoride but that cities really plan to use hydrofluorosilicic acid.
The group calls it “mass medication” it was not something the government should be deciding for everyone.
Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney fluoridate their water.