One of the most polarizing, crowded and lengthy Keizer City Council work sessions in recent years centered Monday night on fluoridating city water.

At the behest of City Councilor Rich Walsh — who was seeking a way to trim the city budget — the council discussed whether ceasing to fluoridate city water could be a cost-saving measure.

Keizer started fluoridating its water in 1982. It spends about $50,000 per year on the practice but plans to add several systems in coming years that would raise the figure to about $80,000 annually.

Seventeen people spoke (12 for keeping fluoridation, five against), and about 30 people attended the meeting, which ran an hour and a half longer than scheduled.

Fluoridation concerns raised at the meeting included costs, the role of government, and safety.

Fluoride is a poison,” said Bill Osmunson, a Lake Oswego dentist who argued against fluoridation. He said fluoride can affect IQ rates and lead to bone problems.

Salem dentist Brian Gilmore countered that, saying, “The problem with the debate … there’s a lot of misuse of science and a lot of people who are not trained professionals, trained scientists,” Gilmore said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fluoride is derived from the production of fertilizer. Water fluoridation “is safe and healthy and promotes its use for people of all ages,” the CDC says.

Fluoride is present in virtually all water at some level. Too little may not protect against tooth decay and too much may be a health concern, the CDC stated.

Keizer, which imports its fluoride from Japan, regularly tests its water and keeps it within the safe range — averaging about 1 part per million, according to city documents.

One of the contentious points Monday was about who should decide whether fluoride goes into the water.

“You want to prescribe a drug, and I haven’t given you my permission,” said Keizer resident Linda Coons.

In May 1982, Keizer Water District asked voters whether they wanted to fluoridate water: 2,554 said yes, and 1,885 said no. Keizer was incorporated a few months later, and the city took control of the water system.

Mayor Lore Christopher said one way to gauge public opinion would be to put the issue before voters again.

The cities of Salem, Forest Grove, Florence, Astoria and Corvallis add fluoride to water; the practice is not mandated statewide.

Fluoridation of drinking water began in 1945 and at present reaches more than 184 million people, the CDC states. CDC calls water fluoridation “one of one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century” because it has decreased tooth decay among children.

Keizer dentist Gib Gilmore said the decision to fluoridate water is about protecting children from tooth decay.

“I cannot imagine why we would want to condemn the next generation of children to this,” he said.

City Councilor David McKane said the issue should be about what’s best for the Keizer community, not budget concerns.

“I think we should just take the dollar issue off of the table,” McKane said.

Walsh disagreed, saying the idea sprung from the May city budget committee, which was seeking a way to trim money from the tight 2010-11 budget.

Christopher told the council the issue can be brought up under new business at another meeting if the councilors desired further action, such as a public hearing.