The city of Santa Fe will discontinue its longstanding practice of adding fluoride to municipal drinking water.
The City Council late Wednesday amended the city code to stop fluoridation and require water managers to monitor naturally occurring fluoride so it doesn’t exceed the maximum level recommended by federal standards.
The city has added the mineral to its water supply since 1955 because of the belief that it helps reduce tooth decay.
Today, the city fluoridates by measuring small amounts of a dry chemical compound at its water treatment plant on Canyon Road and at wells, and the same practice takes place at a treatment plant for Rio Grande water drawn into the joint city/county Buckman Direct Diversion project. But, following Wednesday’s City Council vote, that practice will cease.
“What’s happening is you are fluoridating 100 percent of the water, and anywhere from 95 to 99 percent of it does not get ingested,” said Councilor Chris Calvert. “So you are basically dumping most of it into the environment one way or the other.”
Calvert, who said he did graduate research on fluoride, said the city should give the $32,000 it currently spends on fluoridation to local dental clinics for the poor.
Ten people testified during Wednesday’s public hearing to appeal to councilors to halt fluoridating. They cited research they say shows that ingesting fluoride is dangerous to human health.
“It’s time for the city of Santa Fe to recognize that the application of fluoride is outdated,” said Jimmie McClure, a chiropractic physician in the city. He noted that fluoride is shown to be effective to prevent decay when applied topically, but not when ingested.
Another speaker, Helen Oates, called fluoridation “one of the greatest scientific frauds done to the unsuspecting public.”
Other speakers asked the city to keep fluoridating.
“There are people who want Santa Fe to stop fluoridating water, and I think that’s a terrible idea,” said Dr. Jessica Brewster, a dentist at La Familia clinic who noted that she was not speaking on behalf of the medical center. “It’s the most vulnerable, the poor and the uninsured who will suffer the most.”
Five other dentists also spoke at the hearing, making similar arguments. Rudy Blea, of the state Office of Oral Health, said Santa Fe is experiencing an increase in tooth decay among Hispanic youth and that maintaining fluoridation is “a good health policy.” Without fluoridation, he said, the problem is likely to worsen.
According to the state Environment Department, Santa Fe is one of only two cities in the state that adds fluoride to its drinking water system.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have announced they intend to lower the recommended level of fluoridation in public drinking water sources to 0.7 parts per million. The current standard ranges between 0.8 and 1.2 ppm. The city’s water sources have a naturally occurring level of between 0.2 and 0.4 ppm, and managers add fluoride chemicals to raise the level to a target of 0.8 systemwide.
Councilor Peter Ives said his sole “no” vote — to continue the practice of fluoridation — was based on personal experience and on the idea that the city’s adding fluoride will help vulnerable citizens, he said.
Voting in favor of the ordinance change along with Calvert were Councilors Bill Dimas, Patti Bushee, Ron Trujillo, Chris Rivera and Carmichael Dominguez. Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger was absent for the vote.
“Back in 1955, Phillip Morris was very strong on smoking too … Until we found out later that cigarettes are poisonous and killing a lot of people,” Dimas said. “I’ve studied this issue a lot before coming here tonight, and I’ve reached my conclusion that we don’t need to add any more fluoride to our water.”
Mayor David Coss didn’t vote because there was no tie, but Coss said he “heard the dental community loud and clear … ask us not to do this.”
“If we don’t think the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is a credible scientific organization, then I guess we don’t,” he said. “They say this is a safe level of fluoride and we believe this is just not true.”