San Diego Mayor Susan Golding will ask the City Council on Tuesday to approve a plan to add fluoride to the city’s drinking water to reduce tooth decay.
“It’s a health issue,” Golding said in a telephone interview yesterday. “San Diego is the largest city in the country without community fluoridation.”
Money to pay for the $3 million in fluoridation equipment needed along with operating costs for nearly the first two years of operation would come from a $4 million grant from the California Dental Association, the mayor said.
Details on how to begin, including a timetable, would be developed by City Manager Michael Uberuaga under Golding’s proposal.
The mayor said it should not take more than a month to produce the implementation plan.
Past efforts to fluoridate city water have been stymied by a 1954 law that forbade the practice. A City Council committee was ready to move ahead with a fluoridation plan four years ago, but stopped because of the longtime prohibition.
In February, however, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer issued an opinion that a 1995 state law takes precedence over local laws. That law states that communities with large drinking-water systems must fluoridate their water if they have the money to pay for it.
Although the initial grant would cover only the first two years of operating costs — estimated at nearly $660,000 annually — Golding said she is confident that other sources of money are available so the city would not have to pay operating costs.
None of the 26 water agencies in San Diego County adds fluoride to its drinking water.
The debate over fluoridation has stirred strong emotions whenever it comes up.
So rancorous has been the dispute over fluoridation in Escondido that it led to the censure in February of Councilwoman Judy Rady by a City Council majority opposed to the water treatment.
A sharply divided council had previously voted to ban fluoride from Escondido’s water supply.
Rady was censured for calling Councilman Keith Beier a liar during a cable television discussion of a controversial city contract for a fluoridation study. That study, by a Tennessee company, Senes Oak Ridge, questioned the validity of an earlier state study supporting fluoridation.
Critics have said fluoride causes more harm than good. The San Diego-based Citizens for Safe Drinking Water has argued that fluoride is a dangerous chemical that should not be forced on people through their drinking water.
Golding said she is convinced by reports from the National Centers for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute and the National Research Council that fluoride is safe and effective in promoting dental health.
“All the evidence shows it does reduce tooth decay,” she said.
Golding’s plan would have an effect beyond the city’s boundaries because residents of some other communities get their drinking water from San Diego, according to a memo from city Water Department Director Larry Gardner to council members.
Residents of Imperial Beach, Coronado and part of Del Mar would get the fluoridated water. So would people served by the Helix Water District in East County and the Sweetwater Authority and Otay Water District in South Bay, Gardner said. The CAL-American Water Co., which serves parts of East County and South Bay, also would get the treated water.
The fluoride controversy in San Diego goes back almost 50 years.
On June 8, 1954, residents voted 50,789 to 44,463 to establish a city ordinance forbidding the addition of fluoride to the water supply. The city had begun adding the chemical 18 months earlier.