Pasco’s plans to build a new water treatment plant later this year has officially reopened the debate over an age-old controversy — to fluoridate or not to fluoridate the city’s water.
“It looks like in the ’40s and ’50s, there was a high degree of argument in favor of fluoridation in water,” Councilman Bob Hoffmann said. “… Lately it seems like the pendulum is swinging.”
Pasco has treated the city’s water with fluoride for almost seven years now. It began the practice to boost dental hygiene of its population, particularly children, many of whom are from families with low to moderate incomes.
“Usually it’s a very cost-effective public health issue,” said Dr. Larry Jecha, health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District. “It’s kids you’re protecting and adults also. These are the people that don’t have the foresight to brush their teeth like they should, that have fluoride and all these other avenues.”
But the practice has vocal critics who say fluoride weakens bones and causes other health problems, especially among the elderly. Councilman Tom Larsen has objected to the city’s water fluoridation on several occasions, even when the council is addressing other topics, such as the ambulance utility rate.
Fluoride was on the agenda Monday because the city was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Washington Dental Service Association to offset the cost of installing fluoridation equipment at its new water treatment plant. The council will vote next week on whether to accept the grant.
The city plans to start building the $9 million plant in the 11300 block of West Court Street this summer, and it would come online in June or July of 2010.
Councilman Al Yenney said he supports accepting the grant as long as it doesn’t lock the city into putting fluoride in the water indefinitely.
Yenney would like to put an advisory referendum on the ballot so Pasco’s voters can say whether they support fluoridating the water. The vote would have to be advisory because the fluoridation decision ultimately belongs to the city council.
The council also gets to decide whether to even put the advisory referendum on the ballot, and it appears there currently aren’t enough votes on the panel to do so. Hoffmann and Larsen indicated their support, but the other four council members indicated support for continuing fluoridation.
“On the basis of the science that I see, I think that I’m going to be supporting this,” Councilwoman Rebecca Francik said. “I’m extremely grateful that we have the opportunity to apply for this grant.”
Yenney said November 2010 might be the ideal time to have the advisory vote. In addition to cost benefits associated with putting it on the ballot then, that timeframe would allow time to work on the issue, Yenney said.
He said the city election later this year might even put someone else on the council in favor of sending the referendum to the voters. But as Councilman Mike Garrison said, the election also could shift the balance the other way.
Garrison and Larsen are both up for election this year, along with Olson.
Also Monday, the council indicated it will consider next week starting proceedings to annex several parcels of unincorporated land near Road 76 and Court Street. The city is interested in bringing a natural gas distributor at the intersection into the city so it can restore collection of a natural gas utility tax that was discontinued by a recent court decision.
The city plans to annex the land using agreements some of the property owners signed when they tied into the city’s water system in the past. At the time, they agreed they wouldn’t protest annexation if the city decided to pursue it at a later date.
But the annexation also would include some properties where the owners didn’t sign such agreements.