Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride’s future in doubt in Lebanon

Albany Democrat Herald | Nov 9, 2023 | By Hans Boyle
Posted on November 9th, 2023
Location: United States, Oregon

Fluoride may face an uncertain future in Lebanon’s drinking water.

That’s because the Lebanon City Council approved a motion this week to consider asking the voters next year whether the mineral should be eliminated from the city’s water supply.

The motion doesn’t mean the council will automatically approve a measure for the ballot, just that it will discuss it again.

The proposal came after an extended back and forth between members about whether they even should put the question on the ballot when they have the power to decide the issue themselves with a council vote.

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It’s a topic council members have discussed before, twice over the past 20 years. Both times they voted to use the additive which helps prevent tooth decay in the city’s water supply.

Councilor Michelle Steinhebel strongly favored members handling the issue themselves, as did fellow member Kim Ullfers, who said councilors were elected to make the hard choices on contentious issues.

“If you can’t make the decisions, don’t sit in the chair,” Ullfers told the council at the Wednesday, Nov. 8 meeting.

But the rest of the panel and the mayor signaled a desire to go the ballot route. Ultimately, all council members voted for the motion.

The topic was put before the council to discuss after the city’s Public Works director drafted a memo on the current costs of fluoridation.

That memo also included a safety data sheet on the chemicals used in the process, and photos of the fluoride containment area at the water treatment plant.

The discussion also followed a recent petition effort to put fluoridation up for a vote, which failed to garner enough signatures.

During public comment, a few people expressed their continued desire to see that question put before voters directly, while also expressing concerns about fluoride safety. It’s been in Lebanon’s water supply since 2001.

Most council members, however appeared receptive to a ballot measure.

Councilor Dave Workman said Lebanon residents had effectively lost their voice on this issue when the council first approved fluoridation in 2000.

“I don’t want fluoride in my water, but I’m one vote,” Workman said. “I don’t think us six should decide that. I think the people should decide that.”

Councilors Wayne Dykstra, Jeremy Salvage and Carl Mann echoed Workman’s sentiments, also saying they wanted to put the question to voters. Mayor Ken Jackola agreed, though he said he understood both sides of the debate.

“I’m so neutral, it’s not even funny,” Jackola told the council but said he also looked at the issue from a business perspective, saying nixing fluoride could save the city maintenance costs.

According to the Public Works Department, annual costs of fluoride dosing currently run more than $27,000 a year.

Steinhebel pushed back against making a dollar analysis.

“This body costs more than that annually for the stipends that are paid to us to sit here and make these decisions,” she said, adding, “If we send it to the voters, that’s certainly going to cost money too.”

Ullfers said he didn’t care one way or the other about fluoride but noted the petition had already failed to gain traction. He also worried about the precedent, saying this would be a slippery slope to referring more issues directly to Lebanon residents.

In the end, however, Steinhebel seconded Workman’s motion for the city to create a memo on referring the issue to voters, with the understanding there would be more discussion and time to build consensus.

Councilors also agreed that any potential measure be included on the November 2024 ballot, to attract a greater number of voters.

It actually wouldn’t be the first time Lebanon residents gave their two cents on fluoride.

Lebanon voters had previously rejected fluoride proposals back in the 1950s, ’60s and again in 1986.

In fact, Lebanon was the last major city in the mid-Willamette Valley to go ahead with fluoridation in 2001, over a year after Lebanon’s medical community helped lobby the City Council to approve its use.

The council approved it again when they voted to continue fluoridating the water supply at the city’s new water treatment plant in 2016.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drinking fluoridated water reduces cavities in children and adults by about 25% and is recommended by the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

Fluoride, a mineral that’s naturally found in water at low levels, strengthens teeth enamel.

However, only 26% of Oregonians are served by fluoridated water systems, according to the CDC, which ranks Oregon 49th in the country for percentage of population served by fluoridated water systems.

It’s proven to be contentious issue for some folks across the mid-valley, who fear adverse health impacts.

In the spring of 2022, an Albany city councilor’s push to remove fluoride from the city’s water system died without a vote. During testimony, Dr. Patrick Hagerty, a former Oregon Health & Science University faculty member, said there was a stark difference in dental health between communities with fluoridated water and those without. He also hammered fluoride opponents’ research, saying it mostly came from one source and used questionable methodology.

Later that year, a council candidate made removing fluoride the centerpiece of his platform.

One big concern for speakers during public comment at the Nov. 8 Lebanon council meeting: water treatment workers who have to wear respirators and protective equipment when working with hydrofluorosilicic acid, the chemical additive used to fluoridate water, which becomes highly diluted in the water system.

In response to a question about the protective gear’s costs, Lebanon Public Works Director Jason Williams told councilors that workers use protective equipment for variety of functions at the treatment plant.

He also said the amount of fluoride dosed into Lebanon’s water system is 0.7 parts per million.

That means “if you had a 150,000-gallon water column, that’s 0.18 gallons of fluoride in that 150,000 gallons,” he said. “Just to put the scope of it in perspective.”

*Original full-text article online at: https://democratherald.com/news/local/government-politics/lebanon-debates-fluoride/article_9117ff92-7f28-11ee-80b5-e7bc9406e8be.html