An issue that Mesa residents may have thought was settled 12 years ago resurfaced last week in a City Council committee meeting.
Councilwoman Dina Higgins, who chairs the sustainability and transportation committee, gave Mesa resident Virginia Salas the floor Thursday to discuss what she called “the awful truth” about fluoridated drinking water.
Mesa fought a protracted battle over fluoride more than a decade ago after the City Council decided in 1998 to augment the fluoride that naturally occurs in its water supply. That led to a ballot proposition aimed at amending the city charter to prohibit fluoridation. The measure lost 62 to 38 percent in a March 2000 special election.
Higgins said it was time to revisit the issue, noting that it has recently surfaced in Phoenix and Gilbert and saying Thursday’s meeting was for informational purposes only.
The lower council chamber was nearly full — a rare occurrence for council committee meetings, which normally draw small audiences.
Salas delivered a detailed PowerPoint and a 15-minute lecture, alleging that fluoride is a toxic waste being pumped into public supplies at the behest of public-health groups under the influence of big-business money.
“Fluoridation is a violation of the individual’s right to informed consent to medication,” she said. “It’s time for our city to stop fluoridating our water.”
Two other residents echoed her arguments, saying fluoride comes replete with health risks and can be blamed, for example, for heart disease.
Kathryn Sorensen, Mesa’s water-resources director, said fluoride is “recommended as a public-health benefit” by the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other public-health groups.
Gary Jones, a Mesa dentist who led opposition to the 2000 initiative, and Jack Dillenberg, dean of the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health at A.T. Still University in Mesa, defended the practice.
“I have looked at all sides of the issue,” Jones said. “If you look at the respected scientific studies in this United States, throughout the world, they continually recognize the benefits of dental fluoridation.”
Mesa’s fluoride level is well within recommended safety levels, Jones said.
Dillenberg, former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said, “I have been in public health my entire professional life. … There is no way on this Earth that I would promote anything that I felt would injure, damage or hurt any citizen, any child.”
Anybody can write an article or a book about fluoride, he said, but objective observers rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies that are endorsed by all major public-health groups.
“I believe in my heart that fluoridation is a safe, effective and proven public-health intervention,” he said.
Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said he was on the City Council that recommended fluoridation in 1998. “We have heard many of the arguments,” he said. “I continue to believe the scientific evidence from the medical community supports the decision we made.”
He noted overwhelming public support for fluoridation in the 2000 election, which came at a time when the City Council had created ill will with the community on several other issues.
Still, he said, it’s appropriate to revisit the issue from time to time because “there is an incredible amount of passion on both sides.”
Councilman Dave Richins said if the policy is ever to be reversed, it should be as a result of another public vote, although City Attorney Debbie Spinner said the council could legally reverse the fluoride policy whenever it wants to.
Higgins said if fluoride opponents feel strongly enough, they can launch a petition drive to force another election.
Phoenix recommended in September that fluoridation continue after a heated two-hour public hearing.
Mesa spends about $200,000 a year on its fluoridation program.