Monterey County supervisors Tuesday ruled out taking an advocacy role in the sharp, public health debate over water fluoridation.
On a 5-0 vote, the supervisors rejected a recommendation from the 2002 civil grand jury that the county take the lead in getting local water systems to fluoridate.
“The benefits are too vague … and the risks are too high,” Supervisor Dave Potter said before moving to keep the county out of the fluoridation fray.
Supervisors voted after supporters and foes of water fluoridation offered sharply contrasting views. Supporters said it would help thousands of children in the county who suffer from dental problems. Foes said it would be tantamount to forced ingestion of dangerous drugs.
“Please do not force our children to be involuntary drug users,” said David Dilworth, a Monterey Peninsula environmental activist.
Alleged links of water fluoridation to bone disease, cancer and other serious health problems were dismissed as “Chicken Little scenarios” by David Nelson, a consultant for the state Department of Health Services.
“It’s a naturally occurring element already in your water,” Nelson said. “We’re not trying to do anything new.”
Water systems serving nearly 30 percent of California residents already are fluoridated, and this month’s decision to fluoridate by the giant Metropolitan Water District in Southern California will raise that to 75 percent, Nelson said.
But Nick Bulaich, a resident of Watsonville, where voters narrowly rejected water fluoridation in November, said there’s no proof of dental health benefits for children.
“The solution is … not to inject everyone with a chemical,” Bulaich said. Instead, children should be taught about proper diets and taking care of their teeth, he said.
Supervisor Lou Calcagno said a better first step would be to ban soft drinks from schools.
Also Tuesday, the supervisors:
* Ordered a hiring freeze on county jobs — including vacant posts at Natividad Medical Center — financed by the general fund. The county is facing a possible $20 million budget deficit, and officials say the hiring freeze could soften the impact of a large budget gap.
* Voted 3-2, with Potter and Lindley dissenting, to delay action on several routine spending items for Natividad Medical Center. The county-owned hospital faces a possible $12 million deficit. Supervisor Edith Johnsen wanted more information about the expenses.
“Just to run the status quo like nothing’s wrong, I can’t agree with that,” Calcagno said.
What it means
The decision on water fluoridation by Monterey County supervisors means county health officials, though supportive of fluoridation, won’t push the idea with local water system operators.