The Watsonville City Council fanned the flames of debate on water fluoridation Tuesday when it agreed to support a call from Environmental Protection Agency unions requesting investigations into possible links between fluoride and bone cancer.
Despite fierce debate, the council passed the motion suggested by Judy Doering-Nielsen, but removed part of the original resolution, which called for supporting the EPA employees’ call for a moratorium on water fluoridation.
The group of 11 EPA unions renewed its call for a fluoride moratorium on Aug. 5 after a doctoral study by Dr. Elise Bassin of Harvard College’s School of Dental Medicine, apparently hidden since 2001, showed that pre-adolescent boys who drink fluoridated water face a seven-fold increased risk of bone cancer.
According to a Washington Post article, Chester Douglass, who supervised research done by Bassin and is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in 2004 there was no link between fluoride and bone cancer.
Douglass also edits the Colgate Company’s Oral Health Report, the Washington Post reported. He is currently under investigation by the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and the NIEHS, the Post reported.
“All of a sudden you’ve got the heart and soul of the EPA saying there’s something wrong with this water fluoridation concept,” local watchdog Nick Bulaich said Tuesday. “That’s big.”
“You should be questioning why a study was covered up that showed fluoridation causing an increase in bone cancer,” he wrote in a letter to the council.
Some council members strayed from the EPA letter to address issues including pesticides and fluoridation in general.
Council member Oscar Rios condemned rising cancer rates, which he said were mostly due to pesticides in the area.
“We’re not talking about methyl bromide; we’re talking about fluoridation,” Doering-Nielsen said in response, adding that she would support investigating pesticides or other substances that might cause cancer at a later date.
Council member Manuel Bersámin said the study under discussion did not provide sufficient data to validate cancer links.
Doering-Nielsen said fluoride has been proven to prevent cavities only when it is applied topically, but said copious research suggests harmful effects.
Council member Antonio Rivas first criticized the study’s validity, saying it was conducted on rats, not children. He was later corrected.
“Without a moratorium, how many kids are going to suffer while they are doing additional research?” asked council member Dale Skillicorn, who voted against removing support for the moratorium on water fluoridation.
Debate over fluoridation in Watsonville surfaced in April 2002, when city officials agreed to an offer from the California Dental Association to fund construction of a fluoridation system and part of the first year’s operations.
A group of residents formed Citizens for Safe Drinking Water to oppose fluoridation, and 51 percent of voters in 2002 passed Measure S, which made adding substances to drinking water illegal unless specifically approved.
Dentists and state and federal health agencies say fluoride in drinking water has prevented tooth decay for decades. Local groups and individuals, including Santa Cruz County Head Start, Assemblymember Simón Salinas and the Santa Cruz County Medical Foundation, fought against Measure S and in favor of water fluoridation.
After Measure S passed, the city rejected a revised offer from the CDA that dropped the fluoridation requirement from 10 years to one year.
Watsonville pursued the case in Santa Cruz Superior Court, which ruled that state law trumped the local measure and the CDA offer provided enough funding to proceed with fluoridation.
Watsonville then appealed in the Sixth Appellate Court in San Jose. Both sides have submitted written arguments and await a date for oral arguments, City Attorney Alan Smith said.
Smith said the date would likely come before the end of the year.