HUMBOLDT – A study on the economic impacts of adding fluoride to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District’s system is almost done and will soon be released to the seven communities it serves.

The district and its seven municipal customers – Arcata, McKinleyville, Eureka, Glendale, Blue Lake, Manila and the Humboldt Community Services District – are sharing the $19,000 cost of the study, which will analyze expense factors of adding fluoride to the system.

At its Jan. 10 meeting, the district’s Board of Directors was told that the study is almost done. General Manager Carol Rische said a draft of it might be finished this week and given to the municipalities for review. A final draft will probably be presented to the district board at its February meeting, Rische said.

Although the board has made it clear that it’s up to its customers and their communities to decide whether adding fluoride is desirable, there’s already been plenty of debate about it. And during the meeting’s public comment session, residents again cited studies and research findings on fluoride’s side effects. McKinleyville resident Adrienne Floreen said a study on health effects needs to be done and that if her water’s fluoridated, she won’t be able to use it.

“A system to remove fluoride from the water in someone’s home can cost thousands of dollars,” she told boardmembers. “And even then, you get a system that might get a gallon of water an hour. That’s not enough water to shower in, to water my large garden, to drink myself, to use in cooking, to give to my cats – I would not use any tap water if there was fluoride in the water.”

Representing the Blue Lake City Council, Karen Barnes said the district’s approach is sensible. The economic study will affect the City Council’s decision-making, she continued, and so will the opinions of Blue Lake’s residents. “For us, first and foremost, will be to see what the cost will be to the city – if we can’t afford it, it’s off the table, there’s no question,” Barnes said. “If it looks like we can afford it, it goes to the citizens and then we have the town meetings, it goes to an election, whatever we choose to do.”

There’s been speculation on what would happen if one or two of the district’s municipal customers decides against fluoride. Manila is the most in doubt, and will hold an advisory vote on fluoride on Feb. 5. When Manila resident Colleen Clifford asked the board if her community’s vote will matter, Boardmember Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap said the dissent of even one community would affect her decisionmaking. “I’ve already said and today still feel the same way, that if one of the entities says no, I personally would have a very hard time voting yes.”

Other boardmembers agreed. After each municipality gauges community opinion on the fluoride issue, the district will hold public hearings on it, including an evening hearing. But the process is moving slowly and the municipal-level decision-making will probably take several months.