For the third time this year, Melbourne leaders will vote on whether to remove fluoride from the drinking water supply of about 170,000 residents across southern Brevard County.
As a regional supplier, Melbourne also provides drinking water for Indialantic, Indian Harbour Beach, Melbourne Beach, Melbourne Village, Palm Shores, Satellite Beach, West Melbourne and unincorporated Brevard County south of the Pineda Causeway.
On Nov. 12, the Melbourne City Council considered about an hour’s worth of testimony from fluoride opponents and supporters. Afterward, a motion to stop fluoridating drinking water failed in a 3-3 tie vote. Councilman Tim Thomas, who had a scheduling conflict, was absent.
As a result, the City Council will reconsider the topic during its next meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Melbourne City Hall.
“We’re highly regulated. We treat the water. We test the water. We report our findings on a regular and transparent basis. The addition of fluoride to the water is not part of that treatment process,” City Manager Shannon Lewis told council members on Nov. 12.
“And so, it’s really City Council’s policy decision as to whether or not you wish to continue to fluoridate the public drinking water,” Lewis said.
Paul Alfrey, Mark LaRusso and Julie Sanders voted to stop fluoridating drinking water, while Mayor Kathy Meehan, Vice Mayor Debbie Thomas and Yvonne Minus opposed the idea.
Messages seeking comment were left for Tim Thomas.
Amid similar debate in January, council members decided to continue fluoridating water. A roster of speakers offered opposing opinions, evidence and testimony — and the special meeting lasted four hours.
City Hall staffers later determined that costs could approach $200,000 to conduct a fluoride referendum during a special election that would include affected communities. Registered voters in Melbourne’s water service area: 130,379.
Melbourne started fluoridated drinking water in 1966, as recommended by the Florida State Board of Health. The city’s water production division has budgeted $57,000 to buy hydrofluorosilicic acid this fiscal year.
Satellite Beach resident Linda Palmisano has lobbied against fluoridation for about a year and a half at Melbourne City Hall, calling the chemical a neurotoxin that affects the thyroid gland, liver and kidneys.
During the Nov. 12 meeting, Palmisano submitted a black-and-white photo of a truck spraying DDT near children at a New York beach — and a sign on the truck reads, “D.D.T. Powerful Insecticide Harmless to Humans.”
However, in a letter to City Council, Florida Dental Association President Rudy Liddell said the average lifetime cost per person to fluoridate a water system is less than the cost of one dental filling — and, in most cities, every $1 invested saves $38 to $43 in dental treatment costs.
“Dental decay is one of the most common childhood diseases — five times as common as asthma and seven times as common as hay fever in 5- to 17-year-olds. Without fluoridation, there would be many more than the estimated 51 million school hours lost per year in this country because of dental-related illness,” Liddell wrote.
The Brevard Indian Medical and Dental Association has submitted petition signatures supporting fluoridation from 62 Space Coast physicians with a combined 1,397 years of practice.
During discussion last week, LaRusso said he has suffered from a thyroid condition for a number of years, and his doctor of 26 years said there is a correlation between fluoride and some health issues.
“He can’t conclude completely. But he says that it’s better to err on the side of safety than not,” LaRusso said.
“So, dental health aside, I’m a little bit more interested in what goes past our throat at this point,” he said.
Meehan said fluoridation is recommended by the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations.
“Throughout 70 years of research and practical experience, the overwhelming weight of credible scientific evidence consistently indicates that fluoridation of community water supplies is the single most effective, safe and cost-effective public health measure to prevent dental decay and repair early tooth decay,” Meehan said.
Wednesday night, the Satellite Beach City Council voted to recommend removal of fluoride by a 4-1 margin.
Mindy Gibson voted yes, saying the fluoride compound added to drinking water is a byproduct of the phosphate industry.
Vice Mayor Mark Brimer voted no, saying drinking water is the only opportunity some children have to receive fluoride.
West Melbourne is Melbourne’s biggest water customer. Deputy Mayor John Dittmore conducted a Nextdoor online poll that drew 189 votes as of Friday afternoon. Half of the respondents voted to keep fluoride, while 38% voted to remove it and 12% had no preference.
“My recommendation to the city of Melbourne is to canvass your own dentists and physicians to see what their position is on this matter. And then, make an informed decision based upon the medical community,” Dittmore said.
Neale is the South Brevard watchdog reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.