The Sonoma City Council couldn’t quite swallow a call to formally oppose a plan to fluoridate County water – though councilmembers say they’ll wade back into the fluoridation swamp in March.
At its Wednesday, Feb. 18, meeting, the council considered a proposal to send a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voicing its opposition to a tentative County plan to add trace amounts of fluoride to the water supply in an effort to better prevent tooth decay.
But after a wave of public comments making wildly different claims about the benefits, or lack thereof, of fluoridation, the council voted 3-2 to direct staff to revise the letter to better reflect Sonoma concerns about the proposed program. Council members Madolyn Agrimonti and Laurie Gallian voted against sending any communication to the Board of Supervisors until more information about the county plan was available.
Many municipalities throughout California add less than one part per million of fluoride to their water as mandated by state legislation, AB 733, which directs districts “that have at least 10,000 service connections” to fluoridate. Many medical and scientific institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Dental Association, strongly encourage fluoridation.
However, fluoridation opponents balk at the idea of government entities adding anything to the public water supply, and question such programs’ effectiveness at preventing tooth decay.
Cost estimates put the price of a Sonoma County fluoridation program at about $587,000 per year; the Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the matter in the spring.
Several community members from both sides of the fluoridation debate weighed in during the time for public comment.
Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh, an anti-fluoridation crusader from Novato, argued that every town in Sonoma County, including Sonoma, was exempt from the state fluoridation mandate because the legislation makes an exception for districts that have multiple water sources, such as wells.
“And there have been no studies on the safety of ingestion (of fluoride),” added Gallagher-Stroeh.
Sonoma resident Will Pier said he opposed fluoridation because, “with education and good information, people can make their own choice (about fluoride).”
Multiple commenters claimed fluoridation programs were part of a government plot to poison the citizenry; others said fluoridation was aligned with the “Agenda 21” conspiracy theory which holds that the United Nations has covert plans to deprive individuals throughout the world of their property rights.
County resident Peter Chernoff recited a three-minute-long poem about the fluoridation plot of Agenda 21 and added that “the nation is run by organized pedophiles.”
Meanwhile, a handful of dental professionals spoke as to the benefits of fluoride – especially for children from lower-income homes.
Dentist Dan Kittleson said that “decades of research has shown that (fluoridation) is safe.”
“(Lower-income) patients who don’t have access to care … get a lot more cavities, have a lot more problems,” Kittleson said.
Martin Van Tassell, executive director of the Redwood Empire Dental Society, urged the council to wait until the Sonoma County Public Health Department formalized its fluoridation proposal before taking a stand.
“At the very least this is a premature action,” said Van Tassell.
Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman spoke of a “silent epidemic of dental disease” in the county.
“More than half of the kids in the county have dental decay,” said Milman, adding that dental disease affects low-income children at an alarming rate. She said studies show that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 29 percent in children and 27 percent in adults.
Mayor David Cook, who initially proposed sending the letter to county officials, said his primary concerns have to do with whether fluoridated water could wind up in Sonoma’s groundwater supply – and questioned the program as a top county priority.
“The money spent on fluoridation would be better spent going to the schools,” said Cook.
Councilmember Agrimonti, meanwhile, admitted she needed more information before taking a stance on fluoridation, yet spoke up for “the people who don’t have access to dental care.”
“I’d rather give a slow yes than a quick no” on fluoridation, said Agrimonti.
The council is slated to consider a revised draft letter of opposition to fluoridation at its March 2 meeting.