Santa Fe County commissioners waded into the local debate about drinking-water fluoridation Tuesday when they passed a resolution on the topic.
The city of Santa Fe has been flip-flopping this summer about whether to continue complying with federal recommendations on adding fluoride to drinking water to promote dental health. City councilors voted in June to halt the practice, then rescinded the vote and plan another decision on Nov. 14.
Since most of the water for residents of the Santa Fe urban area comes from a joint city/county water project, however, both governments will have a say in the final outcome.
Two commissioners and two city councilors are part of the joint city/county Buckman Direct Diversion Board, along with an at-large member who does not serve on either local governing body. Even though the city is the fiscal agent for the diversion project and supervises its workers, the Buckman board controls the project through a joint powers agreement.
That’s why County Commission Chairwoman Liz Stefanics introduced the resolution at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting to prohibit county members of the Buckman board from voting on the fluoride question until the county takes a formal position.
County residents will be affected by any decision regarding fluoride supplementation, the resolution notes, and so far, the county “has not been consulted on the ongoing practice.”
Stefanics said at the commission meeting that an early agenda for the Nov. 11 Buckman board meeting calls for a vote on whether to halt fluoridation. That item has now been redefined as a “discussion” at the 4 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave.
“My concern is that it would be a rather backward step to remove fluoridation from the water when the federal government is indicating that it’s important,” Stefanics said.
Commissioner Kathy Holian, who along with Stefanics represents the county on the Buckman board, said she agreed that the county needed time to vet the “extremely complex issue.”
Most of the county residents use wells, she said, and fluoride levels are small problems compared with arsenic and other contaminants in area wells.
“They would be very fortunate to get Buckman Direct Diversion water, whether fluoridated or not,” Holian said, adding later, “I do recognize that there could be health problems associated with it, but again, I really have not studied the issue, and I don’t feel prepared to make any sort of pronouncement on it.”
Santa Fe is one of two New Mexico communities that add fluoride to their water supplies to meet federal recommendations for the mineral in an effort to boost prevention of tooth decay. It has done so since the 1950s. Albuquerque no longer adds fluoride because its naturally occurring levels are very near the federal recommendations. State officials say many other communities have to treat their water to remove fluoride that exceeds maximum levels.
The fluoride mineral is present in Santa Fe’s municipal water sources in concentrations between 0.2 and 0.4 parts per million. (One part per million means there’s 1 milligram of an ingredient in a liter of water). The current city code, also used by the Buckman Direct Diversion for water quality standards, calls for the water to be fluoridated up to at least 0.8 ppm and no greater than 1.2 ppm. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have proposed setting the new “optimal fluoridation level” for public drinking water at 0.7 ppm.
Residents and city councilors who oppose the practice of fluoridation have said adding fluoride amounts to mandatory medication and that it presents health hazards. Dentists say it’s essential to keep children’s teeth healthy.