The vote on fluoridating Bellingham’s drinking water shows a divide in the city.
Fluoridation, which is failing with 47 percent of the vote, is getting its strongest support in areas with more affluence and new homes, including Edgemoor, South Hill, Samish Hill and Cordata. The strongest opposition comes from older, west-of-the-freeway neighborhoods, including Sunnyland, the Lettered Streets, York and Happy Valley.
The areas opposing fluoridation are places where people are more likely to go to acupuncturists, eat natural foods, support 2004 presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and be suspicious of government and food additives, Western Washington University political science professor Todd Donovan said. “There’s a lot more Buddhist prayer flags hanging on people’s houses than say around the lake or in Edgemoor.”
Fluoridation is failing in all but one of the precincts where then-Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader won at least 9 percent of the 2000 vote, above Nader’s citywide support. Nader’s best precinct – which takes in part of the York and Sehome neighborhoods – is fluoridation’s weakest. Nader had many fewer votes across the city in 2004.
Donovan, who advised the pro-fluoridation campaign, was involved with a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found fluoridation got more support in more affluent areas. The campaigns in such areas use a social-justice angle to appeal to liberal guilt, he said.
Donovan said newer arrivals might be more likely to support fluoridation because they’re very likely to have come from places that already had it.
Danelle Weaver, treasurer for the anti-fluoridation group Healthy Goals for Bellingham, agreed.
“We have a lot of people moving into Bellingham that grew up with fluoridation, so they don’t want to see something they grew up with as harmful to them,” Weaver said.
Cordata resident Mary Hopkins said her support for fluoridation came from her experience.
“I’ve used it all my life. I’ve lived in Arizona, California, Maryland and they’ve all had fluoride in the water,” she said. “I don’t know who doesn’t use it anymore.”
The social-justice angle might also have appealed to Hopkins.
“I heard that the kids around here are having a lot of cavities,” she said.
Weaver said affluent neighborhoods might also be the ones with more doctors and dentists. She said people who opposed fluoridation wanted to be free to make their own decisions about whether or not to use fluoride.
“People who are less affluent can’t afford to pay to have it removed from their water so they are stuck with it whether they like it or not,” she said.
Jennifer Lovchik, of the Sunnyland neighborhood, opposed fluoridation.
“I don’t want to be force medicated,” she said. “It’s toxic waste. And it’s different to have it ingested then to just brush your teeth and get it out.”
The fluoride divide matches what fluoridation supporters learned in phone calls and door-to-door visits, said Curt Smith, a retired dentist and co-chairman of Bellingham Families for Fluoride. Smith was generally cautious about speculating on the reason for the disparity.
“Better-educated voters were in favor of this,” he said.