Merely utter the word in Fort Collins these days and you might get an earful. Residents of the city seem staunchly divided on whether to continue adding the oft-championed cavity-fighter to drinking water.
It is an issue that many have sunk their proverbial teeth into.
And it is drawing near a possible end. The City Council on Tuesday will have two choices: keep fluoride in the water or remove it. It won’t be just another council vote. If the council decides to eliminate fluoride, it will end a much hailed, 36-year public health policy.
At a May 20 study session, the seven members of the council indicated where they stand, with four members favoring continued water fluoridation.
“It’s a big issue,” City Manager John Fischbach said. “I think this is a major decision for the community. It is also one in which the community has been divided.”
Tuesday’s vote will mark the culmination of more than two years of intense study of water fluoridation by health professionals, officials and the public. It is the end of a process that began in December 2000 when city staff and Mayor Ray Martinez asked the city Water Board to take a closer look.
The Water Board did, and in April 2001 recommended removing fluoride, citing concerns for public health, the tens of thousands of dollars spent each year on fluoridation and other issues, including the safety of workers.
If the council on Tuesday opts to keep fluoride, it could leave it up to Fort Collins Utilities to decide if the amount being added should be adjusted. During the review process, health officials said it would be worthwhile to consider lowering the amount of fluoride added to water supplies.
Opponents of water fluoridation, including Fluoride Facts, an ardent anti-fluoride residents group, say it is mass medication of the public, forced upon some who don’t want it and some, such as those who wear dentures, who don’t need it.
They are joined in their opposition by a wide variety of residents, officials and groups, including the Sierra Club’s Poudre Canyon Group and the Poudre Valley Green Party.
Organizations advocating fluoridation, including the Larimer County Dental Society and the Health District of Northern Larimer County, counter that the weight of evidence indicates that fluoride is a safe and effective cavity-reducer and a benefit to those who find it difficult to afford quality, routine dental care.
Councilwoman Marty Tharp, one of the three on the council who wants water fluoridation to end, said there’s no new information that is likely to change her mind.
“I’m not yet convinced that it is necessary,” she said.
Mayor Ray Martinez said he will vote to keep fluoride in the water. He expressed trust in the wide array of health professionals, agencies and organizations that conclude fluoridation is safe and effective in reducing cavities.
“We should be focused on facts, not theories,” he said.
But if the council leaves fluoride in the water, opponents vow to fight.
“We will pursue a ballot initiative and a possible lawsuit,” said Pati Caputto, a member of Fluoride Facts and a leader of the initiative group tentatively dubbed Clean Water of Advocates.
“Our ranks are growing.”