An Albany City Council member’s push to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water died without a vote.
Councilor Matilda Novak raised the idea in March, leading to a staff report and passionate testimony regarding fluoridation during a council meeting the night of Wednesday, April 27.
In the end, three council members and Mayor Alex Johnson II voiced support of fluoridation for public health reasons, and it became clear there wasn’t enough support for Novak’s plan. Rather than start the process for a proposed ordinance that would ultimately fail, the council essentially abandoned the matter.
“If we’re not going to do anything, let’s not do anything,” Councilor Dick Olsen said.
At an earlier point in the meeting, Novak pleaded with the council to give fluoridation serious thought and urged the city to continue discussions with experts.
“Actual experts testified tonight,” responded Johnson.
Dr. Patrick Hagerty of Albany, a local dentist and former Oregon Health & Science University faculty member, said that there was a stark difference in dental health between communities with fluoridated water and those without. He also hammered research against fluoridation, saying it mostly came from one source and used questionable methodology.
Pediatrician Dr. Edward Frothingham of Samaritan Health Services discussed how dental decay contributes to a wide array of other health problems, and how adding small amounts of substances to food and drink — much like adding fluoride to water — is well-established and has essentially eliminated some diseases.
Residents who testified against fluoridation said that it caused health problems, and that it was unethical to use a drug on the populace without its consent.
“Most Albany residents don’t know that they are being forced to consume fluoride,” Deb Merchant said.
The city of Albany has included fluoride in its drinking water since 1968. Fluoridation is optional but recommended by the Oregon Health Authority, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies.
Albany is one of 44 community water systems in Oregon that use fluoride, according to a staff memo from Scott LaRoque, Albany’s water superintendent.
According to the OHA, Oregon ranks 48th in the United States for water systems that are fluoridated. Overall, 22% of Oregonians on public water systems receive fluoridated water, compared to 73% nationwide, the memo states.
The cost to the city to fluoridate its drinking water supply is about $25,000 in materials. Staff time on fluoride adds up to more than one hour per week — about five minutes each day for testing, with an additional 15 minutes every two to three days to add more fluoride, according to the memo.
A complicating factor in removing fluoride, LaRoque said, would be the city of Millersburg, which shares water systems with Albany. Millersburg officials recently discussed drinking water and decided they wanted to continue fluoridation.
If Albany voted to discontinue fluoride, a fluoridation station would need to be installed on the main water line supplying Millersburg. The cost of that would be unknown and likely would fall upon Albany, LaRoque said.
The Albany City Council’s meeting packet also included written testimony for and against fluoridation that was received before April 20.
Among those writing letters in support of continuing fluoridation were: Dan Keteri, CEO of Samaritan Albany General Hospital; Deidre Greene, chairperson of the NAACP Health and Wellness Committee and a retired nurse practitioner; and Britny Chandler, chairperson of the Linn, Benton, Lincoln Regional Oral Health Coalition.
About five letters in opposition to fluoridation were from Novak herself. She said water fluoridation is a minor factor, if any factor, in preventing cavities and asserted fluoridation is linked to serious harm to human health.
“I believe that if a substance can’t be demonstrated safe for everyone beyond a reasonable doubt, it shouldn’t be added to the water. Numerous high-quality scientific studies, especially recent ones, have found significant evidence that fluoridated water can be harmful to both children and adults,” she wrote in one of the undated letters.
Novak also noted that the majority of Oregon cities, including Eugene, Bend, Medford, Roseburg and Ashland, do not fluoridate their waters.
Neighboring cities such as Corvallis, Philomath, Lebanon and Sodaville continue to fluoridate their water systems, wrote Keteri.
He cited a CDC letter from March 2021, which stated that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 25% in children and adults. Schoolchildren living in communities where water is fluoridated have, on average, 2.25 fewer decayed teeth compared to schoolchildren not living in fluoridated communities.
In addition, no convincing scientific evidence has been found linking community water fluoridation with any potential adverse health effects or systemic disorders, he said.
Keteri wrote that fluoridation is “one of the simplest and most cost-effective means of ensuring better health for all Albany residents.”
The council also held an executive session on Wednesday night to discuss property transactions. When the government body reconvened, it unanimously voted to give staff authority to negotiate the potential purchase of a property within the city of Albany.