SANDPOINT — Removing fluoride from the city’s drinking water has been a pungent topic among council members who will once again address the issue in an upcoming meeting.
After the narrow defeat of a proposal last year that sought removal of fluoride from the municipal water supply, members of an anti-fluoridation group asked the city to reconsider.
Members of Water Keepers, a local group that seeks accountability for the additives in drinking water systems, asked City Council recently to adopt an ordinance that required manufacturers of additives to disclose the contents of by-products in their products.
Mary Baenen was among opponents at Wednesday’s council meeting to call for disclosure, or a repeal of the city’s fluoridation ordinance.
Baenen said the industrial grade fluoride products used in municipal water systems may contain arsenic and lead, but, she concedes, she does not know for certain.
“There are impurities in the product,” Baenen said. “We don’t know what kind, because they won’t tell us.”
The fluoride used is an industrial grade pharmaceutical product. The federal government does not require byproducts to be disclosed, but the product is regulated and tested by Underwriter Laboratories, according to the city, and a maximum contaminant level is set at 10 percent by the Environmental Protection Administration.
Several council members have joined Baenen in asking for repeal of the city’s fluoridation ordinance, if only until a new ordinance can be adopted.
Council member Jamie Davis, who brought the group’s request to the council, opposes fluoridation because of the non-disclosure issue.
Fluoridation also flies in the face of personal choice, she said.
“I would like to air on the side of caution,” Davis said.
Councilman John Reuter favors fluoridation on the grounds of evidence.
Reuter asked twice in the past year to let city voters decide if they want fluoride in water, but the proposal to add the measure to the ballot was denied.
“I do think we should preserve a practice that has benefited the community over the last 50 years and has been a benefit to our citizens,” Reuter said. “The surgeon general, every major medical association, from dentists and pediatric doctors all suggest we continue fluoridation.”
Mayor Gretchen Hellar was the tie-breaking vote to keep fluoride in the municipal water system last year.
Hellar said fluoride’s medical benefits, primarily its cavity fighting ability, is a boon to families who cannot afford regular dental visits.
In addition, she said, she stands by the tests mandated by the government that are meant to assure the safety of the product.
“They are scientists,” she said. “They have no vested interest in promoting something that hurts people.”
Davis said she would vote to repeal the existing ordinance that calls for adding fluoride, as opposed to putting a measure on the ballot because a large number of water users do not live in the city. They would not be allowed to vote on fluoridation.
In addition, she said, as the city plans for a new municipal water facility, taking out the fluoride factor could save as much as $135,000 in construction costs.
The city spends approximately $2,000 annually to fluoridate the water of its 4,200 customers, according to the city.
Council members may get a chance to vote on repealing the fluoride ordinance as early as a June 23 special meeting. The meeting will be publicized next week.