A group of local health professionals and concerned citizens said it has collected almost enough signatures to let voters decide whether fluoride should be added back into the city’s water supply.
Citizens Promoting Dental Health has until July 12 to collect 1,952 signatures from qualified voters to put the contentious issue on the Oct. 2 municipal ballot. That number is 25 percent of the votes cast in the last municipal election.
“Whether you agree with the issue now or not, that is not what we’re talking about right now,” group member Karen Lawfer said. “Do you think you should have the ability to say yes or no on fluoridation?”
In November 2006 the Assembly voted to halt water fluoridation in Juneau. The city stopped adding fluoride to the water supply in January.
Lawfer said the 11-member group Citizens Promoting Dental Health began loosely organizing right after the Assembly’s final decision and began talking about a ballot initiative. By April the group was fully organized and began the process of bringing the fluoride issue to the voters, Lawfer said.
As of Thursday afternoon the group has collected roughly 1,900 signatures, Lawfer said.
“We’re shooting above that just in case some of them don’t work out,” she said. “So our goal is 2,500.”
At this point, with a week left to collect signatures, it looks promising that the issue will make it on the October ballot, Lawfer said.
“We’re right there right now, and so we want to make sure we got the wiggle room,” she said.
Naturopathic Dr. Emily Kane said she continues to believe it is in the community’s best interest to keep fluoride out of the city’s drinking water. Kane was a member of the mayor’s Juneau Fluoride Study Commission that was split 3-3 on the issue.
“It’s not toxic to everybody,” she said. “Most people are not going to have a problem … but some people are.”
Kane said topical use of fluoride has proved effective, but it has the ability to negatively affect other parts of the body, such as the thyroid or the brain. There are other effective ways to prevent tooth decay that don’t require exposing the entire population to potentially harmful levels of fluoride, she said.
“The truth of the matter is, it’s much more important to not eat a bunch of candy and to brush your teeth,” Kane said. “That’s how you prevent tooth decay.”
Dr. Kristen Schultz, a local dentist and member of Citizens Promoting Dental Health, said dental professionals have been taking more of an educational role with their patients since fluoride was removed from the city water earlier this year. If fluoride is not added back into the water, then local dental health professionals will see an increase in tooth decay in the coming years, especially in children, she said.
“It hasn’t impacted us yet, but I feel 100 percent sure that it will affect us in several years if we don’t get fluoride back into our community water supply,” she said.
Dr. George Brown, a local pediatrician and group member, said fluoride is a very basic and effective preventative public health measure, particularly for children.
“We know that it works and we know that it’s safe,” he said.
Right now the group is focusing on getting the initiative on the October ballot, Lawfer said. If it succeeds, then it will work on a campaign to get more information out to the public, she said.
“We can get into all the pros and cons of fluoride later,” Lawfer said.
Citizens Promoting Dental Health has the support of the Alaska Dental Association, the Alaska Medical Association and the Alaska Public Health Association.
“Here in Juneau there is overwhelming support, like 95 percent support, of the medical and dental community,” Brown said.
Kane said it is heartening to know that the majority of cities where city fluoridation has been brought before the voters, most communities have decided to keep fluoride out of city water.
“Almost unanimously the citizens have voted to have it out of the water,” she said. “So I think that would happen in Juneau.”