Judging by the fluoride bill, the notion of freedom needs some shoring up among Oregon legislators.
A House committee has cleared a bill requiring cities above 10,000 in population to fluoridate their domestic water supplies. This is the latest development in a long, long debate. The prevailing wisdom has it that adding fluoride to the water supply helps prevent tooth decay, especially among children. But the effect, if there is one, is very mild and hard to detect. Drinking fluoridated water is no guarantee against decay, as thousands of people in Albany and many other fluoridated water systems know from their repeated visits to the dentist.
But whether fluoridation works is hardly the only point, or the main one.
The main point is that in a free country, whether to consume nutritional supplements ought to be a matter of choice. Nobody should be forced to consume added substances just because the authorities say they are good for you.
Nor should the state dictate on this subject to cities. After all, the very existence of fluoridated water systems in Oregon (Albany, Lebanon, Sweet Home, Corvallis, among others) proves that this is something that cities can do on their own. If Portland and Eugene, among others, have not added fluoride, perhaps they have their reasons. It is not for the Legislature to override their views.
Meanwhile, if the state wants to help poor children avoid dental problems, let it start a program of giving out fluoride tablets to families that can’t afford them. There’s anecdotal evidence that regular use of those tablets, along with dental hygiene, is far better at preventing decay than the low dosage of fluoride that cities can put in the water.
Pushing those tablets instead of changing the whole water supply also is more prudent from another angle: Artificially fluoridated water ends up in our streams. There’s at least some reason to wonder whether this is doing salmon any good.
A 1989 paper in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management reported evidence that fluoride from an aluminum plant near John Day Dam “had a significant negative effect on passage time and survival of adult Pacific salmon at the dam.”
The fluoride concentrations at the dam in 1982, when the study started, were between 0.3 and 0.5 milligrams per liter. When water is fluoridated in Albany, it comes out with a higher concentration, about 1 mg/L. It would be more than a little ironic if, forgetting about freedom, the Legislature required cities like Eugene and Portland to add fluoride to their water — and thus to the Willamette River — and thereby unwittingly added yet another cause for the wild salmon’s decline.