PORT ANGELES — As the debate over water fluoridation in Port Angeles rages on, the Clallam County Board of Health will step back and take a broader look at oral health countywide.
Clallam County Commissioner and health board member Mike Chapman broached the fluoride subject Tuesday, saying the City Council should listen to its constituents and find alternatives to municipal water fluoridation.
“People are really upset,” said Chapman, a city resident and self-described fluoride agnostic.
“The City Council has to do something. They have to do something or they’re going to have anarchy on their hands.”
The council voted 4-3 later Tuesday to continue system-wide fluoridation despite strong objections from public speakers.
Members of the council voted 6-1 — with Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd opposed — to direct staff to explore forming an ad-hoc committee to study alternatives to citywide fluoridation.
“We actually have a key role,” Chapman told his fellow health board members before the City Council convened.
“If we were truly serious about oral health, we would offer to the city to take the lead on a countywide issue.”
While the Board of Health has taken no position on city fluoridation, Health Officer Dr. Christopher Frank testified in support of municipal water fluoridation at the City Council meeting.
“I think the science is clearly on that side,” Frank told the health board.
Oral health was identified as one of the county’s top health priorities in 2012.
Dr. Jeanette Stehr-Green, chair of the Board of Health and a proponent of fluoridated drinking water, agreed to schedule a discussion on the “bigger issue” of oral health at next month’s health board meeting.
“I can’t disagree with you that it is a big mess, and I won’t even comment on that,” Stehr-Green told Chapman.
“However, I would say that if it comes to a point where we’re using county funds to support some sort of effort, then I will become very vocal in that those county funds are used in a cost-effective manner.”
Chapman was adamant that elected officials should listen to their constituents.
He said the city is “on fire” about the fluoride issue and predicted that residents would change their form of government if the council continues to support municipal water fluoridation.
“If the public says no, you don’t have a right to say yes as an elected official,” Chapman said.
Stehr-Green disagreed. She questioned the validity of a November survey that found 56.6 percent of city respondents opposed fluoridation.
The survey sent to water customers garnered a 43 percent response.
“If we put out a survey — do you want to pay taxes? — how many of them are going to come back saying yes?” Stehr-Green asked.
Chapman defended the survey and noted that some council members who support water fluoridation campaigned against it in the past.
“The public feels very betrayed on this issue,” Chapman said.
“My point is that we should work with the city and work to a more comprehensive viewpoint. People who have never been involved in local politics are involved in this issue.”
Chapman applauded the council for looking for alternatives to municipal water fluoridation.
“They’re being respectful of their citizens,” he said.
“What do you do if you’re an elected official? You say, ‘Well, I’m right. You’re wrong. Too bad’? You can’t do that. They have to make the change.
“Maybe they won’t.”
If the City Council does not “step back from the abyss” and reverse course on fluoride, Chapman predicted that a new council would be voted in to say no to fluoride.
“If you just wait, then you’ll have nothing,” he said.
“Otherwise, you can work on a collaborative approach that actually should address the entire county because I don’t think kids just in Port Angeles are somehow lacking in oral health.”
Sequim does not have fluoride in its municipal water supply, but Forks does.
Chapman said those who want fluoride can purchase fluoridated drops, get fluoride treatments from their dentist or brush with fluoridated toothpaste.
“Scientifically speaking, it is more effective if you ingest it,” Stehr-Green said.
“Getting it systemically and getting into the tooth that is continuously remodeled makes it much more effective than just topical applications.”
Chapman said his wife grew up without fluoridated water and has perfect teeth.
“Well, I know people who have smoked for 50 years — and more than a pack a day — and they don’t have lung cancer,” Stehr-Green said.