VISTA —- The final decision on whether Escondido can fluoridate its water will have to wait about five more months, officials said Monday.
Although jury selection in a trial set to determine the issue was scheduled Monday, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Stern decided late Friday to postpone the trial until Oct. 12 because of scheduling conflicts with the judge’s vacation, according to Assistant City Attorney Jennifer McCain, who is handling the case for the city.
“It was not my request,” McCain said. “I think we could have completed it. It has been pending for so long, personally I would rather have it done.”
The lawsuit was brought against the city and the state by local residents who oppose fluoridating the city’s water.
Meanwhile, the city will continue installing and testing the fluoridation equipment at the city’s water plant, near Dixon Lake in eastern Escondido.
“We are going to keep marching forward until we are approved to fluoridate,” said Glen Peterson, the city’s interim utilities manager.
Deputy Attorney General Karen Fried, who represents the state in the lawsuit, declined to comment, referring reporters to the media relations office, which did not return calls Monday.
Kyle Nordrehaug, the attorney for the residents, also did not return calls for comment.
Their lawsuit stems from a mid-2001 decision by the Escondido City Council to lift a 1999 city ban against putting certain chemicals, including fluoride, in the city’s water supply. The council also agreed at the time to start purchasing the equipment needed to fluoridate Escondido’s drinking water.
The city’s action followed the Statewide Fluoridation Act that requires California cities with more than 10,000 water service connections to fluoridate their water once money becomes available.
Escondido met both requirements. It supplies water to about 24,000 residents and the California Dental Association Research Fund offered to pay the initial set up costs for the fluoridation. Peterson said the fund has reimbursed about half of the $320,000 cost so far.
The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the city’s plans unconstitutional and prohibiting the city from going forward.
While dentists around the state have called fluoride in water an effective way to treat tooth decay in poorer children who might not have access to regular dental appointments, critics say the delivery is dangerous.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical compound that dentists have used for decades to reduce dental decay. More than 80 national and international health organizations have supported fluoridation and national studies have found fluoride in drinking water can reduce tooth decay by as much as 60 percent.
Adding fluoride has been common across the nation since World War II, except in Southern California.
Residents say they filed the suit because they were concerned about the chemical needed to put the fluoride in the water. The city is planning to use hydrofluorosilic acid, an industrial by-product that contains arsenic and lead as well as fluoride.
Councilwoman Marie Waldron, whom Nordrehaug has said he will call to testify against fluoride use, voted against the fluoridation request in 2001 and said she has the same concerns now.
“Hydrofluorosilic acid never has gotten FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval or approval by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and we are just going to put this in the water?” Waldron said. “I didn’t want to add it when there are so many questions about it.”
She also questions the health benefits versus the risks.
“It is supposed to be helpful to kids 6 to 11 years old,” she said. “But that is such a little window. Why should old people or moms with babies be exposed?”