The city of Watsonville is set to start the process toward drinking water fluoridation this fall, garnering both support and some skepticism.
Two names have surfaced as the spokesmen for and against fluoridating the municipal water supply. Sara Clarenbach of Salud Para La Gente, speaking on behalf of her organization, explained that fluoridating the water is necessary for the dental health of the city population. Watsonville citizen Nick Bulaich maintained that without sufficient scientific evidence that fluoridation treatments improve dental health, it should not be added to the municipal water supply.
Clarenbach gave a brief summary of the present timeline. By this fall, firms are expected to have turned in bids to the city to install a fluoridation plant, and the water supply could be treated with fluoride by 18 to 24 months from the time a bid is accepted.
While fluoride may hit city faucets in the near future, the issue of fluoridating Watsonville’s water supply goes back for more than ten years. In 2001, the city council voted to fluoridate.
In 2002, Watsonville citizens passed Measure S, which states that no additive used to treat people could be put in the city’s water without approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Yet the FDA does not control drinking water regulations, creating a Catch-22 where some feel adding fluoride to city water would be illegal.
Nick Bulaich is a local citizen who was involved in supporting Measure S, and has adopted the unofficial role of spokesman against fluoridation, speaking his disconent on local radio stations such as KSCO 1080.
“I made an oath,” he said. “I’m gonna go ‘til the bitter end.”
Bulaich’s main complaints are twofold: a lack of concrete scientific evidence that artificially added fluoride prevents tooth decay, and the fact the chemical companies that produce the large-scale chemical mixtures for fluoridating water do not themselves claim that their products create better dental health.
But Bulaich dismissed these endorsements, highlighting the danger of introducing an “uncontrolled dosage” of a medication to a population. If a medicinal additive made it in to the tap water, each time a person drank anything made with local water, or ate food cooked with local water, they would be ingesting fluoride. The fear is that you could end up “with an entire county that’s overdosing on fluoride,” he said.
A controlled dose of fluoride would be more like what a dentist or dental hygienist applies directly to a dental patient in a clinic. According to Clarenbach, Salud Para La Gente provided this service to about 2,900 patients last year at its low-income dental health care clinics. Her organization sees the need for fluoride among many individuals, and therefore endorses it for everyone in the city.
“The need for preventing dental decay is tremendous,” said Clarenbach.
Bulaich and Clarenbach have come head to head once on the topic during a radio show on KSCO 1080 in February 2010. Since then they have not had a chance to air out their differences of opinion in person.