Some 20 local residents attended a public hearing before the Seward City Council Monday, July 29th about the pros and cons of fluoridating the city’s water supply. An advisory proposition will be on the ballot in the October 6 municipal election. Twelve people spoke in favor of fluoridation. A few others brought up questions such whether fluoridated water would affect fish processing or the environment of Resurrection Bay, and the fairness of the voting process for those living outside city limits, but whose children would use city water at school. Only one resident, Ron Newcome, spoke against it.

The five p.m. hearing began with two 15-plus minute Power-Point presentations analyzing scientific reports on the health effects fluoridation, and looking at some of the statements regularly given by groups opposed to fluoridation, and the studies they frequently mention. U.S. Public Health Service’s Troy Ritter, a senior environmental health consultant, and Alaska Native Tribal Health consultant, described how difficult can be to sort through all of the Internet information on water fluoridation. Ritter said one invariably finds claims such as that 130 million Americans are being chronically poisoned by fluoridated water; that its use may lead to AIDS; that 22-percent of American children suffer dental diseases brought about by fluoride; and that it has also purportedly been linked to allergies, heart disease, aging, brain function and brain cancer.

But putting 36,000 fluoride-related studies listed by the National Library of Medicine into perspective, Ritter said you find that certain often-quoted studies raising health concerns cannot be replicated, or were not verified by an independent source; lack peer review; are based on tests on mice rather than humans; have small (unreliable) data samples, which can more easily yield false results; or have no relevance to water fluoridation.

After 10 years of studying the issue on behalf of native villages and corporations, Ritter said he believes fluoridation is needed in order to address a common lack of proper oral hygiene. Five times more 3rd graders in villages with fluoridated water were likely to be cavity- free than those without according to recent dental screening results taken in Alaska villages, Ritter said. Kindergarteners drinking fluoridated water were seven times more likely to be cavity -free than their fluoride-less counterparts. Another matched-pair comparison study showed 90-percent of children in non-fluoridated villages had, or needed oral surgeries and averaged 2.6 cavities per child; while 37-percent in fluoridated villages had oral surgeries, and they averaged 1.5 cavities per child. Screenings of five villages in a new 2009 study he participated in, also will show the substantial benefits of fluoridation, Ritter said.

John French discusses Flouridation [sic]

Environmental Toxicologist and retired UAA professor John French addressed claims that fluoride was considered “toxic waste” and is poisonous to the population. French said any given substance, even too much sea water, could poison a person. It all depends on the dose. Even quite high doses of Fluoride fail to show detrimental health effects, French said. With millions of people drinking fluoridated water for decades, one would expect to see “epidemic proportions” of fluoride-associated diseases, yet there are none, he said.

Following the prepared presentations, Ron Newcome spoke first, saying he had only just that morning learned of the public hearing due to a stray e-mail.

“This has not been a public process,” he said. “This has been a very carefully orchestrated dog-and-pony show.” Referring to Ritter’s presentation on studies pertaining to native communities, he said, “there are no natives here, there are no native dentists here, where did all this come from?” Newcome urged Seward residents to be “very, very suspicious” of the presentations given, and the motives of those wishing to fluoridate Seward’s water supply. Given a chance, there could also have been PowerPoint presentations showing a very different side, Newcome said. He suspected that the city had hired French and Newcome to present one side, a claim they afterwards denied. City Manager Philip Oates said the Wellness for All committee, supported by Providence Seward Medical and Care Center had asked for fluoridation to be put on the ballot.

“I don’t know of any conspiracy to keep this from the public,” Oates said. He added he was surprised that there weren’t more people speaking out against it. “What we’re trying to do is put information out to the public, give the public a voice, and try to be as neutral as possible,” Oates said.

“The council has gone overboard to stay neutral on this,” added Vice Mayor Willard Dunham. In addition to the advisory vote, Dunham said the issue will be up before the council and for public discussion three more times. A proposal that the council would include a pamphlet detailing the pros and cons of fluoridation in the ballot was finally rejected, with council members concerned that neither side would be perceived as having been fairly presented and also scientifically accurate.

Some of the other comments by Seward residents:

• Maya Moriarity, office manager of a local dental office and chair of Seward Wellness For All, oral health subcommittee, said as a mother of two young children, she wouldn’t want to put them at risk (from no fluoridation.) She supports it after studying the scientific reports herself. Seward’s local native corporation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Center supports it, and the latter has offered to help pay up to 20-percent of the initial cost, Moriarity said.

• Matt Hall, a local veterinarian said he supports it, believing the evidence that it even helps prevent dental problems in dogs and cats, possibly horses too.

• Carol Griswold said we need to be fiscally aware of the costs of doing so and the effects on local taxpayers.

• Paul Foreman, of Providence Seward Medical and Care Center said all of the medical professionals at his hospital support fluoridating the public water, noting that he personally does not stand to gain by doing so.

• Valerie McDonald, a 10-year dental hygienist said she grew up with fluoridated water and thinks it would “be a great thing for our community.” She had to write a 12-page paper about the cons of fluoride, but could not find a single peer-reviewed paper.

• Ian Dutton, Ph.D., and President and CEO of Alaska SeaLife Center, said he was born in Tasmania shortly after fluoridation came about there. His older brother and sister both had their entire set of teeth removed because of problems he believes would have been prevented with fluoridation. In 50 years of fluoridation in Tasmania, teeth problems have declined 70-percent, he said.