Stuart — The great fluoride fight is coming to Martin County later this year.
The county plans to start adding the mineral to its drinking water for its 28,000 customers early next year, almost four years after commissioners voted 4-1 to fluoridate the water. But commissioners voted Tuesday to let supporters of the additive, and opponents who regard it as poison, to argue their case to commissioners at a public hearing before letting the fluoride flow.
“The majority of the e-mails and calls I am getting are against fluoridation,” said Commissioner Lee Weberman, who suggested the public debate before the commission continues with its earlier decision to fluoridate. “I personally don’t think fluoride is harmful. But do you force something on a percentage of the population that doesn’t want it?”
An oral-health task force organized by the county in 2002 recommended fluoridation because scientific studies for nearly 50 years have suggested that fluoride can strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay, said Sharon Kinane, a member of that task force. The American Dental Association, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other major medical organizations endorse fluoridation, Kinane said.
But several residents, led by Jensen Beach engineer Pat Arena, say they can point to other scientific studies that show fluoride is harmful to babies and can weaken bones and teeth. Arena said businesses that want to make money off fluoride have perpetuated false studies and propaganda promoting fluoridation for decades.
“Big money as always is able to sweep any truth under the rug,” Arena said.
Other residents said they also opposed fluoride after seeing the information Arena has been gathering for the past several months.
“You should reconsider getting your fluoride from other sources. I do not want it,” Carol Ann Leonard said.
Arena suggested holding a voter referendum.
Commission Chairman Susan Valliere, who voted against fluoridation in 2003, said she would still vote against it. “I don’t think the government should be mass medicating its residents,” said Valliere, who lives in Stuart. “I spend a lot of money purifying my water.”
Stuart also plans to start fluoridating its water early next year.
Kinane said she feared Arena’s comments would scare residents.
“Our concern is we’ve heard some comments from citizens and they are sort of diverse and out there,” she said.
Commissioners asked County Administrator Duncan Ballantyne to reconvene the old oral-health task force. That task force will examine any new studies since the last vote and make a new recommendation at the public hearing, then Arena will get to argue his case against fluoridation.
Weberman said he hasn’t changed his mind about fluoridation but does have some questions. He wants to know what impact the water would have on seniors’ teeth and whether there are any areas served by county water now where children have problems with their teeth.
“Some of us might change our minds,” Weberman said, adding that he expected the public hearing, which has not been scheduled, to be packed with residents arguing bitterly on both sides.
“I expect this to be a miserable experience for the five of us.”