PORT ANGELES — Health care professionals and local residents took part in a lengthy battle over fluoridation of city water at a special City Council forum.
More than 60 speakers expounded for three minutes each Thursday night in the packed City Council chambers, commenting on the positives and negatives of continuing the 10-year practice of adding fluorosilicic acid to a water system that serves 10,000 households and businesses.
The forum, moderated by Nancy Esteb of the Clallam County League of Women Voters, imposed a rule that no clapping was allowed, saying it was to ensure decorum and speed the meeting along.
But the more than 100 opponents and proponents who overflowed the council chambers were allowed to raise their arms and flutter their hands in approval for speakers who mostly alternated in a for-and-against procession to the podium.
“It gives the audience a way to communicate to the council that they like someone’s comments without making noise,” Esteb said Friday.
“It gives someone a way to express themselves without being disruptive.”
Dentists and other health care workers, who outnumbered fluoridation foes 38 to 25, focused on the effectiveness of fluoridation in fighting tooth decay and other maladies related to dental disease, especially among children whose parents don’t obtain fluoride in other forms.
“It feels to most medical officials that this is an issue that died 50 years ago,” said Dr. Chris Frank, Clallam County public health officer.
“This is safe and effective intervention,” Frank said, contending “major harm” would result from stopping fluoridation.
Opponents said pro-fluoridation data was flawed, that the practice causes mass fluorosis — which discolors teeth — among teenagers and contributes to other health problems in adults.
They said fluoridation employs toxic substances and that fluoridating city water is tantamount to forced medication of the populace.
Opponent after opponent said it came down to an issue of personal rights.
“The real issue goes beyond trust or distrust of this study or that, this expert or that,” said Janet Kailin, who said studies showed that fluoride is harmful.
“The critical issue at hand is the individual right of informed consent,” she added.
“Dentists cannot force medication on an individual.”
Dr. Mike Maxwell disputed Kailin’s assertion.
“It’s not medication,” he said.
“It’s an ion that exists in nature, and it’s adjusted at optimum levels to bring benefits to the community, like chlorine.”
But two speakers later, Tom Goodwin spoke of the unknowns.
“No one knows the cumulative effects,” he said, adding that he owns birds and that people don’t know “how harmful it is to those little critters.”
Former Mayor Orville Campbell was one of the few speakers who are not in the medical profession who expressed support of fluoridation.
He said dentists presented convincing evidence 10 years ago that the city should fluoridate the water.
“I urge that you consider strongly the positions of the medical and dental people that we all deal with and that you sustain fluoridation of our city water,” Campbell said.
Separate sign-up sheets were provided for citizens in areas served by city water and those that are not.
But with the three-hour limit for the meeting, there was not enough time for the 15 to 20 citizens who don’t get city water to make comments, Esteb said.
City water users will weigh in on fluoridation beginning this week through a yay-or-nay advisory survey that will be mailed to them Friday.
The surveys are due at City Hall by Nov. 27 or must be postmarked by that date.
City Council members will consider the results when they decide whether to continue fluoridating water consumed by 8,500 households and businesses inside the city limit and 1,500 east of the city in the Clallam County Public Utility District.
That decision must be made by May 18, when the city’s 10-year obligation to fluoridate city water expires with the Washington Dental Service Foundation, a nonprofit funded by Delta Dental of Washington, an insurance company.
Fluoridation proponents and opponents have been commenting at regular City Council meetings for more than a year, and committees for and against fluoridation were featured at a special City Council meeting Oct. 22.
In a 1975 advisory ballot election, Port Angeles residents overwhelmingly voted against fluoridation.
Council members did not comment during the special meeting Tuesday.