The campaigns for two Emerald Coast Utilities Authority seats have an undercurrent: Whether fluoride should continue to be added to local drinking water.

The issue could be effectively decided if the two pro-flouride incumbents — Lois Benson in District 2 and Dale Perkins in District 4 — lose to challengers who are either stridently against fluoride or at least open to reconsidering its use.

Fluoride has been added to the taps of some 230,000 ECUA customers since 2001, and the overwhelming consensus among medical and dental professionals is that fluoride improves dental health.

But in 2008, little-known anti-fluoride candidate Elizabeth Campbell scored a political upset when she defeated pro-fluoride incumbent Logan Fink. She has continued her crusade against the additive since taking office.

If Benson and Perkins were replaced with anti-fluoride board members, Campbell and the two new members could form an anti-fluoride majority on the five-member board.

Campbell raised the issue for discussion at an April 21 ECUA board committee meeting, but no action was taken, so the issue subsided for the time being.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses fluoridation, saying it’s “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century” and a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay.

As of 2006, the most recent year listed on the CDC’s website, 69.2 percent of the U.S. population on public water systems had access to fluoridated water.

“Every dollar spent for community water fluoridation saves from $8 to $49 in treatment costs,” according to the CDC. “Fluoridated water saves more than $4.6 billion annually in dental costs in the United States.”

The Fluoride Action Network fights that consensus, arguing that fluoridaion may actually increase tooth decay and contribute to neurological issues ranging from lowered IQs in children to Alzheimer’s disease, in the elderly.

Three Republican Candidates In District 2

Benson, 63, has been on the ECUA board since 2004, representing District 2, which includes western Pensacola and southwestern Escambia County and Perdido Key.