Melbourne will continue to fluoridate drinking water for customers across roughly 100 square miles of southern Brevard County.
The City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to do so.
“Community water fluoridation is effective. It’s economical and available to all consumers, regardless of their socio-economic status,” Councilman Tim Thomas said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“And let’s remember: The key folks we’re focusing in on with this fluoridation are the children,” said Thomas, who cast the tie-breaking vote.
“Some of these low-income kids, this is the only dental fluoridation they’re going to get,” he said.
In addition to customers within city limits, Melbourne provides drinking water for Indialantic, Indian Harbour Beach, Melbourne Beach, Melbourne Village, Palm Shores, Satellite Beach, West Melbourne and unincorporated Brevard County south of the Pineda Causeway.
Thomas, Mayor Kathy Meehan, Vice Mayor Debbie Thomas and Yvonne Minus voted to continue fluoridating drinking water. Paul Alfrey, Mark LaRusso and Julie Sanders voted no.
Tim Thomas was in Georgia for his daughter’s wedding during the Nov. 12 City Council meeting, when a motion to discontinue fluoridation failed in a 3-3 tie vote, split along similar lines. Council members decided to hear the topic again after he returned to town.
Tuesday’s debate featured 45 speakers, who lobbied for and against fluoride from the public comment podium for about two hours.
Minus and Tim Thomas — a retired Army lieutenant colonel — cited a 2013 memo from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, which said Army, Navy and Air Force installations with treatment facilities serving at least 3,300 people must provide optimally fluoridated water.
Why? The memo said “dental decay continues to be a major problem for military personnel and is a significant reason for personnel to be classified as non-deployable.”
“At a time when more than 100 million Americans don’t have or can’t afford dental insurance, fluoridated water offers an easy, inexpensive strategy to prevent tooth decay that everyone benefits from simply by turning on their tap,” Minus said.
Alfrey unsuccessfully asked to survey Melbourne water users to gauge their opinions on fluoridation.
“At the end of the day, it’s about people’s right for implied consent. And that’s my concern here today. We don’t have a choice. We don’t give our residents a choice,” Alfrey said.
Sanders said she preferred to find a more natural method to add fluoride to the water.
“I’m not against fluoride. I just want to make that clear. I think fluoride does help with the tooth decay. I don’t think using an industrial byproduct is the answer for that,” Sanders said.
West Melbourne officials purchase wholesale water from Melbourne for their city of roughly 23,000 residents. During Tuesday’s meeting, West Melbourne City Council members Daniel Batcheldor, Pat Bentley and John Dittmore spoke in favor of fluoride.
“Our City Council discussed this at our last council meeting. There was not one council member that was supportive of the city of Melbourne discontinuing optimal fluoridation of the drinking water,” City Manager Scott Morgan told Melbourne officials.
West Melbourne leaders are pursuing construction of a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant, and Morgan said that water supply will be fluoridated.
Neale is the South Brevard watchdog reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.