Fluoride Action Network

Lebanon will put fluoride on the ballot

Albany Democrat Herald | Dec 14, 2023 | By Hans Boyle
Posted on December 14th, 2023
Location: United States, Oregon

Fluoride has been in Lebanon’s water system for more than 20 years, but next year, city residents will decide if they’ll eliminate it.

That’s because the Lebanon City Council approved a motion Wednesday night, Dec. 13, to add a question on the November 2024 ballot: Should the city nix the chemical additive which helps prevent tooth decay into its drinking water?

The measure won’t cost the city because it’s scheduled for a General Election ballot, according to the Linn County Clerk’s Office.

The motion passed 4-to-2 and comes after previous petition efforts, forwarded by some Lebanon residents who’ve questioned fluoride’s safety, failed to gain traction.

The decision also follows a previous council meeting in which members debated whether to simply vote on the issue themselves like they’ve done twice before — both times approving fluoridation.

But a majority of councilors, including members Dave Workman and Carl Mann who were elected in 2022, appeared determined to have the fate of fluoridation put before voters.

At the last council meeting, Workman said he personally doesn’t want fluoride in the city’s drinking water but believed Lebanon residents should have the final say, not their six-member governing body.

However, Councilor Michelle Steinhebel, who voted against creating a ballot initiative Wednesday night, reiterated her view that the matter should be a council decision. She pointed to the failure of previous ballot petitions to gain enough signatures.

Councilor Kim Ullfers also voted against the motion, having expressed similar reservations.

But resident Corbin Tolen, the man who started the original fluoride petition, said he abandoned his signature-gathering efforts before the most recent local election season. That was so he could knock on doors for candidates like Workman, who he expected to take up the issue directly once seated, Tolen said.

“And I’m glad we did that because we are actually having council members who’re listening to the public and doing this,” Tolen said during public comment, referring to council’s planned vote on Wednesday night.

Tolen wasn’t the only one who provided public comment.

Lebanon dentist Adam Kirkpatrick urged members before the vote to keep fluoride off the ballot. He cited the “humongous weight of science” behind the benefits of fluoridation.

“My business would actually do better with poor oral health, but that’s not why I do what I do,” he said.

Kirkpatrick told the council he treated patients during a visit to the Dominican Republic, which he said doesn’t fluoridate its water. He compared the severity of cavities there to the fewer cases he says he sees in Lebanon.

“I saw firsthand what a huge difference (fluoridation) can make, just clinically speaking,” he said.

Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control reports fluoridated water reduces cavities in children and adults by about 25%. Fluoridation is also recommended by the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

Lebanon has augmented its water supply with fluoride since 2001, making it the last major city in the mid-Willamette Valley to do so. That capped the city’s long history of aversion to the practice.

Lebanon voters previously shot down fluoride proposals in the 1950s, ’60s and ’80s. The city’s medical community eventually lobbied successfully to have the council approve its use in 2000, before it was finally dosed in the city’s drinking water the following year.

In explaining his opposition, Tolen cited a 2015 safety data sheet included in the packet for the last council meeting. The sheet notes the corrosive hazards of fluorosilicic acid, the chemical additive used to fluoridate water.

He rhetorically asked if the substance were truly safe, why nobody would visit the treatment plant and swish some around in their mouth.

While fluorosilicic acid is a hazardous substance, it is highly diluted in the water supply. According to Lebanon’s public works director Jason Williams, the amount dosed in the city’s water is 0.7 parts per million.

After the council vote, Tolen said he was happy people will have a choice on fluoride next November.

Kirkpatrick thanked the council at the end of the session for listening to his comments, though he later expressed concern to Mid-Valley Media that the ballot initiative would place a big question mark on substance that’s been well studied.

“It seems more like fear-mongering than a reasonable argument,” he said.

The council backed fluoride again when it approved the mineral’s use at the city’s new water treatment plant in 2016.

*Original full-text article online at: https://democratherald.com/news/local/government-politics/lebanon-puts-fluoride-on-the-ballot/article_8be42a16-9ab5-11ee-a9b5-03ae817f820e.html