Flowing to a vote
City Council puts fluoride ordinance on April ballot
It may have been the hottest topic in town for more than a year, but following a decision Tuesday night by the Durango City Council, the fight over fluoride is really just beginning. The Council voted against a citizen-driven petition to prohibit the practice of adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, a process called fluoridation. Procedurally, it forces them to put it on the April ballot for a public vote.
Although their decision was unanimous, with all five council members supporting fluoridation, the vote wasn’t exactly cut and dry.
The petition put before the Council is an ordinance requesting fluoride not be added to public water. Specifically it states, “all city employees are prohibited from adding fluoride (or any chemical containing fluoride for the purpose of fluoridation) to the city’s public water system.”
For more information from both sides of the fluoridation issue visit ...
This site, put together by area residents, looks at the risks of water fluoridation and explores alternatives for dental health
This site promotes water fluoridation as a basic public health standard
So, a vote for the ordinance is a vote against fluoride, and a vote against the ordinance is a vote for fluoride.
“Because of the wording, I think it can be very confusing,” said City Councilor Sweetie Marbury during Tuesday’s meeting.
Council members even had to doublecheck with the city attorney to make sure they were not just voting against the proposed ordinance, but for the fluoride.
The same confusion could surface on the ballot, which is also worded as a vote for or against the proposed ordinance. So, a vote for the ballot measure, and for the ordinance, is a vote to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water supply. A vote against the ballot measure and the ordinance is a vote to continue adding fluoride, something Durango officials have been doing since 1956.
The confusion prompted several councilors to encourage voters to get educated – not just on the ballot language, but on the issue.
In that vein, the city has added a “Fluoride Information” page to the Utilities Department section of its website. It provides a Frequently Asked Questions page, copies of the city’s fluoridation policy and safety procedures, product information on the specific sodium fluoride they use, recent testing data on the city’s water and fluoride content, as well as fluoridation quality awards the city received over the past several years.
Currently, Durango officials add 0.5 milligrams of sodium fluoride to the city’s water supply. With 0.2 milligrams already in the water naturally, they achieve 0.7 milligrams, an amount recommended by federal and state public health officials in an effort to help residents with cavity prevention.
“We’re not hiding anything,” explained City Manager Ron LeBlanc. “It’s all right here.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the Council hosted another one a week earlier, on Mon., Jan. 30. Although there’s no requirement in the city charter to do so, council members knew there was plenty of passion on both sides of the fluoride issue and chose to dedicate an entire evening to public comment.
The meeting lasted more than three hours, at the end of which Durango Mayor Christina Rinderle said, “If I’m reading the tea leaves appropriately, it may end up on a ballot in April.” And, she was.
The council chambers were packed at the Jan. 30 meeting. The room was essentially divided between pro- and anti-fluoride advocates and, at times, the mood was contentious.
Many of the key points in the national fluoride debate were echoed at the public meeting.
Those who supported the addition of fluoride to the water, for example, shared personal stories of treating children, particularly those in low-income households, who suffered from severe tooth decay and other dental health issues because they lived in areas where fluoride was not added to the water supply. They said children who live in communities which add it typically have far fewer cavities than those who did not.
Those who opposed adding it also cited health concerns, specifically worry over potential toxicity or adverse effects from persistent exposure. They also questioned whether it was a government’s or city council’s role to make that decision for residents – or if residents should be able to make the decision themselves.
Now, they will have that chance. The issue will land on the upcoming ballot, scheduled for April 4.
The practice of adding fluoride to a municipal water supply came from an unexpected discovery in the early 1900s. A dentist in Colorado Springs noticed communities with higher levels of naturally occurring fluoride had fewer cavities than those without it. The revelation led to several studies and by the 1950s, communities across the U.S. starting adding it to the water supply.
Fast forward half a century, and the debate is changing. In fact, some communities have stopped the practice of fluoridation completely. According to the Fluoride Action Network, a national anti-fluoride advocacy group, the list of those no longer adding it to the water supply includes Olathe, Snowmass, Montrose, Pagosa Springs, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
The issue became a hot topic in Durango about two years ago and, eventually, landed at the Utilities Commission table. Commission members spent hours listening to local experts and concerned citizens. In the end, its five members were split on the issue. Some felt the science was behind adding fluoride to the water, and others questioned if it was the role of local government to administer it without individual consent.
Although they were split, when it came time for the Durango City Council to discuss the issue, it never made it past the study session table. As a result, 34 residents put together a petition to force their hand.
The City Charter allows for citizens to petition and bring ordinances before the Council. If those ordinances are voted down, they automatically land on a ballot to be voted on by the people. Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie, who dubbed fluoride the new “F” word during last year’s debates, said at Tuesday’s meeting, “It’s time, as they say in Congress, for an up or down vote … it’s time to put it on the ballot.”