Monterey County supervisors agreed Tuesday that they don’t want to get involved in the swirl of controversy over fluoridation.
“I don’t think we even have the authority,” said Supervisor Lou Calcagno.
The issue arose in January when the county grand jury recommended the county become a “principal advocate” for the fluoridation of drinking water in the county.
But opponents of fluoridation say the compound might have harmful side effects and water consumers should not have fluoride forced upon them.
Environmental activist David Dilworth of Pacific Grove said fluoridation programs use “water as a vehicle for drugs. Do not force our children to be involuntary drug users.”
However, the grand jury recommendation was enthusiastically endorsed by Dr. David Nelson, a fluoridation consultant for the state Department of Health Services, who asked the board Tuesday to disregard the “Chicken Little” arguments from opponents who contend that fluoride is a dangerous drug or a poison.
Nelson and other health-care workers told supervisors that fluoridated water systems could help solve chronic tooth-decay problems among low-income children.
He said dozens of larger water districts in the state are already adding fluoride to their systems and that nearly 75 percent of California’s population will get fluoridated water when the Metropolitan Water Department in Southern California begins fluoridating its water soon.
But Monterey County officials said they aren’t jumping on the bandwagon.
The grand jury’s recommendation is included in four pages in the middle of a 125-page report that also looks at other significant issues within the county, including the deteriorating conditions of Juvenile Hall and the controversy surrounding the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.
Supervisors on Tuesday were being asked to approve dozens of formal responses to the grand jury report, but the fluoridation recommendation occupied most of their time.
Opponents urged the board to reject the recommendation, saying the grand jury did not investigate the science of fluoridation.
“The science is an extremely gray area and the benefits seem too vague,” said Supervisor David Potter.
In addition, it would be difficult to enforce fluoridation policies in a county where hundreds of individual water systems provide water to the population, county officials agreed.
Under state law, large water systems are required to add fluoride if and when state money is made available to pay for the necessary equipment.
“The problem in Monterey County is the number of private wells and private water purveyors,” said Potter. “With the dynamics of the way water systems in Monterey County are developed, to come up with a global policy about fluoridation just doesn’t make sense.”
Supervisors said operators of individual water companies should be able to fluoridate water if they believe they should, but that the county should not become an advocate for fluoridation.