Over the years, Pinellas County commissioners have often said it is better to err on the side of caution when making decisions that affect the health and safety of its citizenry.
The problem with the very controversial issue of adding fluoride to the drinking water is there seems to be no clear consensus on whether it is more harmful to continue the practice or to take it away.
People are passionate with their opinions and beliefs based on what they all say are facts, based on science. The problem is science supports both sides – depending on the source.
The American Dental Association, along with local groups, swear by the good that has resulted since the 1940s when government began adding fluoride supplements to public drinking water supplies. They believe the practice of fluoridation has reduced dental decay saving millions of dollars on dental care, as well as pain and suffering of the population, especially children. They say that without fluoride in the water, many would be affected adversely.
The three commissioners who support continuing water fluoridation also are concerned about potential adverse effects from discontinuing the practice. We applaud their concern. Much progress has been made by county government to provide dental care to those in need who can’t afford a dentist.
On the other side, we can’t fault the four commissioners who believe there could be something to the scientific evidence that says fluoride could be a potential health threat. It is simply a matter of disagreement on what is best. All the commissioners say the public’s best interest is the impetus for their decision. We believe them.
Commissioners are offended by talk that politics or money influenced their votes, and we see no real evidence that either issue was at the forefront of any decision. It all boiled down to science, the interpretation and the source.
Valid arguments were made on both sides as to whom we should believe. Some scoffed at the very idea that information found on the Internet should be taken seriously. Some scoffed at the notion that studies funded by big business or even the government could be trusted over those by independent researchers.
One attorney warned that lawsuits surrounding fluoride in public drinking supplies would someday make those about asbestos, lead and tobacco seem small in comparison. The future will tell if that prediction will come true.
Words, numbers and facts, depending on the source, have long been used to sway public opinion. Lay people – those of us without the expertise to understand complex scientific findings – must rely on the good will of scientists, researchers, doctors and other experts to present the truth and do what’s right when it comes to the good of the people. We all know that words, numbers and facts can be skewed to one side or the other.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services changed their recommendations about how much fluoride should be added to drinking water supplies. They now advocate less, rather than more. The reasons are multi-fold involving the availability of fluoride supplements the public can buy and the increased occurrence of fluorosis, a build-up of excess fluoride in the body that causes mottling of the teeth and potential long-term effects to the bones.
History shows that decisions made in the past oftentimes must be reversed as evidence comes forward of unforeseen consequences. Is that the case with fluoride? It is important to point out that neither the EPA nor the HHS advocate stopping the practice of fluoridation.
In the grand scheme of things, Pinellas County has been putting additional fluoride in its drinking water for only a short time – about seven years. People have been for and against the practice since it was proposed in 2003.
The reasons vary. Some object to the type of fluoride used, which is not the same as that which occurs naturally. The two types used to fluoridate the water are byproducts of certain industries, such as fertilizer manufacturers. Those who want it out of the water believe it to be a poison or neurotoxin.
Some simply say it is the right of the people to decide what is best for their own wellbeing and that the government should do nothing more than what is necessary to keep the water clean.
Government officials argue they have the responsibility to do what is best for the public’s health and safety. Perhaps both sides are correct in this assumption; however, too many don’t do what is best for them due to lack of knowledge or willingness. Others simply can’t afford it.
Is it the government’s role to put additives in the water supply to make up for those who won’t or can’t take care of their teeth? The supporters of fluoridation believe so.
Was it the right decision to take fluoride out of this county’s water supply? At least four commissioners and a lot of others think it is the best course of action.
Depending on the source, both sides can be proven right or wrong. There seems to be no clear path that says a particular direction will do more or less harm.
It may take another 60 years before enough proof on either side can be presented to know the truth about fluoride. Perhaps as more evidence comes forward, county commissioners can take up the subject again.
The public elects people they believe will represent their best interests. We see no signs that the county commission is not doing its job. It’s simply a matter of disagreement about the right direction.
It all comes down to the source.