It’s an ages-old question for many cities with water systems, but in Gearhart, where there has never been a water system until last year, this question never came up: To use fluoride or not?
That was – literally – the debate at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting when speakers delivered presentations on the pros and cons of fluoridating the city’s drinking water.
Although the City Çouncil hasn’t proposed eliminating the fluoride that is in the water system, that didn’t stop Mayor Dianne Widdop from asking Gearhart resident Rick Mousley and Seaside dentist Scott Santos to discuss the issue.
The debate became heated only when City Councilor Al Carder stepped into the discussion, taking exception to Mousley’s suggestion that the city stop using fluoride and that the “government” pay for fluoride pills for residents who still saw benefits to the chemical.
Mousley began the debate by saying he wasn’t advocating that no one takes fluoride, but that he thought it should be an individual decision. Fluoride, he said, shouldn’t be in the drinking water that everyone uses.
He cited reports that indicate that ingesting fluoride regularly could reduce children’s IQ levels, cause kidney problems and promote bone cancer in boys. Over time, it accumulates in the body’s soft tissues, makes bones brittle and can harm the brain, he said.
Although fluoride is touted for lowering the incidence of cavities, Mousley said, research shows that it doesn’t make much difference in cavity rates.
When the powdered chemical is put into water, he said, it is considered to be medicine.
“When you are taking medicine, it is best to be under the care of a physician,” Mousley said.
City officials say they monitor the level of fluoride that goes into the water, “but they don’t monitor the number of glasses of water that people drink,” he added.
Until both fluoride supporters and opponents agree on the best course of action, “why not err on the side of caution and remove the fluoride?” Mousley asked.
But Santos, who said he was “definitely in favor of fluoride,” noted that it hardens children’s teeth and slows down decay. He also cited studies showing that children who live in cities with fluoridated water have fewer cavities, extractions and root canals.
“In Seaside, we see patients from fluoridated and nonfluoridated areas. There’s a huge difference in the work that’s needed,” Santos said.
He disputed Mousley’s contention that fluoride could cause bone fractures, bone cancer and kidney problems. “You would have to drink a lot of water,” he said.
Public Works Director Mark McFadden told the council that the fluoride content in the city’s water is about .7 parts per million, much lower than the state’s limit of 2 parts per million. It is monitored every day, he said.
Naturally occurring fluoride in the water makes up .4 parts per million of the total content, McFadden said.
The process of adding the powder is “very simple,” said McFadden. It costs less than $4,000 a year.
While fluoride can be filtered out of drinking water, the filters are expensive, Mousley said.
Another Gearhart resident, Carol Lucas, who sells water purification systems, told the council she also opposed fluoridation.
“It’s not to my advantage because it takes away my business, but I would like the city to take the fluoride out of the water,” Lucas said.
“We are brushing with fluoridated toothpaste and we are drinking more water. We don’t need to have our water medicated.”
In an informal survey, City Councilor Joy Sigler asked the audience how many people wanted fluoride removed from the water. About one-third of the 24 persons attending raised their hands. Another third rose their hands when she asked how many were uncertain, and the final third raised their hand to Sigler’s question, “Who wants to keep their medicated water?”
At that, Carder said he took “extreme exception” to Sigler’s use of the word, “medication.”
To that, Sigler replied, “We all thought it was safe, and now it is presented as a chemical that changes a bodily condition. That is a medication.”
In other business, the council:..