Two years after overwhelming supporting fluoridation of their city water, Healdsburg voters will again weigh in on the issue. But the ballot language approved by the City Council Monday appears headed toward a court challenge.
The question approved by the City Council Monday on a 4-1 vote is straightforward: “Shall the City of Healdsburg stop fluoridating its water supply?”
But to fluoride opponents it oversimplifies and ignores what their initiative petition asked of voters: whether a moratorium should be instituted on fluoridation until the manufacturer of the additive provides detailed chemical reports and a written statement verifying its safety for ingestion.
Dawna Gallagher, a leading fluoride opponent and former Rohnert Park City Council member, asserted the Healdsburg council’s action was unlawful. Immediately following the discussion Monday, she vowed to file a lawsuit to force the city to use the same language was used in gathering signatures for the proposed ballot initiative.
But Healdsburg City Attorney Robin Donohue said it was appropriate to consider a simplified question on fluoride, since the specific requirements in the ballot proposal can’t be met. One of the requirements, for instance, asks the city to produce a list of contaminants for each batch of chemical produced, which city officials said would be prohibitively expensive.
About 10 people addressed the council Monday, most against fluoridation.
“If you can’t provide proof it’s safe, please don’t put it in our water anymore,” said one woman who addressed the council and identified herself only as “Lea.”
But Healdsburg dentist Sean Widick said scientific research overwhelmingly supports fluoridation to combat tooth decay and the benefits outweigh the risks.
Generations of Healdsburg residents have been drinking fluoridated water since 1952, when voters approved it and the city became one of the first in the state to add it. Adding fluoride to the water is done in most California communities and about three-quarters of the public water systems in the United States, although Healdsburg is the only city in Sonoma County to do so.
Most dentists and a long list of health organizations back fluoridation as a time-proven, effective method to reduce cavities, safely strengthen teeth and benefit families that don’t see dentists regularly.
But critics view it as a form of mass medication and dangerous toxin that can lower IQ, decrease thyroid production and cause teeth discoloration.
In 2014 Healdsburg voters agreed to keep fluoridating the city’s water, with 64 percent supporting the practice and 36 percent against it.
But a determined band of anti-fluoride activists this year gathered more than the minimum 597 valid voter signatures — 10 percent of the electorate — to again place the issue on the ballot.
This time around, fluoride opponents had a different tactic. In their circulated petitions, they asked for “an accurate list of all contaminants and their amounts for each batch sold to the city.”
The city’s fluoride vendor, Brenntag Pacific, said it might be able to supply a “list of contaminants,” but not necessarily for every shipment. The company also stated standards for testing for impurities are done on a quarterly analysis, and would not be available for each batch. Nor could the manufacturer or vendor supply either a toxicological report or written verification of the chemical’s safety for all water consumers.
In light of not being able to satisfy the demands of the fluoride opponents, the city argued that imposing a temporary moratorium as they requested would be the same as a permanent cessation of fluoridating.
So instead of presenting a “factually misleading” measure regarding a conditional moratorium that in effect would lead to a permanent ban on fluoridation, the city attorney recommended the city adopt the more simplified ballot question.
Council members followed her recommendation, other than the dissenting vote from Brigette Mansell, who worried about the cost of a legal challenge if the language of the voter petitions wasn’t duplicated on the ballot.
“The city needs to be able to provide information. If we can’t validate it’s safe, why would we want to keep introducing it in our water?” she said.