Monday, the Philomath City Council indicated it will not back down from its May decision to ban fluoride from the city’s water supply.
Only one of the seven voting members, Councilor Angie Baca, stated a preference for restoring fluoride after hearing public testimony on the issue at the past two meetings. At those meetings, a long list of local medical professionals gave testimony in favor of the additive.
The city had added fluoride to the water since the 1980s to prevent tooth decay. In addition to Mayor Ken Schaudt, the councilors surveyed Monday who said they still favored a ban were Matthew Bierek, David Buddingh, Rocky Sloan, Michael McDonough, and Charla Koeppe.
About 10 people attended Monday night to watch the council discussion. No public comments were allowed.
Philomath Mayor Schaudt spoke for more than an hour Monday, uninterrupted, delivering a “Top 10” list of why he believes the city should not add a fluoride mixture to its water supply.
Schaudt said right up front that, “A lot of where we have gotten our information is from the internet” and added “I am going to be making statements that I don’t want you to take as the gospel truth.”
He self-rated each statement he made as “plausible,” “possible,” “potential” or “probable,” often re-ranking them after a moment’s hesitation and repeating some statements as he shuffled through a stack of papers.
Schaudt started by noting that out of Oregon’s 243 cities, 27 currently provide fluoride to citizens. According to the data he read, only about 26 percent of Oregonians get fluoride in their drinking water.
With nearly every point he made, he’d counter it with qualifying statements such as: “Statistics are funny things. Numbers you can make do whatever you want them to do” or “In researching this issue you can print a stack of paper as high as you wish on the good reasons … you can print the same size stack on why not to do it.”
“I don’t want to choose between the two,” he said at one point. “I am not a chemist. I am not a scientist. Who am I to say which study is correct? So in my decision, I tried to stay away from the science.”
He called fluoride a “toxic agent,” said that the fluoride that the city uses is is “not pharmaceutical grade.”
He raised concerns about fluoride reacting with other compounds such as chlorine and causing lead to leach from pipes.
“What happens if more studies continue to surface confirming negative health risks? Could (the city) be held potentially liable for this practice?” he asked. “We need to protect ourselves, because the supplier is not going to do it. We as a municipality can not take that risk.”
He added that the city is wasting its money to by providing fluoride through the water system and said that when he powerwashes his deck that fluoride is not being used for its intended purpose (to prevent tooth decay) but is instead going directly back into the environment.
“It is not efficient use of a product,” he said.
“There really is no substance that is tolerated by everyone. If fluoride is healthful to the teeth, it should be applied directly to the teeth,” he said.
His number one reason: “Freedom of choice is precious to all Americans. It’s value must be protected,” he said.
Schaudt needn’t have worried. After his rambling testimonial, he surveyed his six councilors:
Only one of the six, Baca, stated a preference of restoring fluoride to the water supply. That means Baca couldn’t even get a second to reopen issue — she didn’t try. No formal motion was made.
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The rest of the councilors opted to stick with their initial May vote to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water — a practice that the city has used for decades as a way to protect its citizens from tooth decay.
Councilor Bierek talked about the possible negative effects on the health of animals, such as fish in the streams.
“We aren’t doing our streams and waterways any good,” he said of the practice of adding fluoride to water. “We’re upsetting the natural balance of our planet.”
He also stressed the element of individual choice.
Councilor Buddingh said, “It’s not our right or our role to mass medicate. I think it’s unethical.”
Sloan, McDonough and Koeppe all said that they had struggled over the decision — flip flopping on the issue in response to citizen testimony and additional research.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that my original vote was for me the best vote,” McDonough said.
Koeppe added: “I have flipped a lot on this issue as well. There were some things said at the last meeting that made me really think. I think it comes down to freedom of choice. Is so much easier to add to something than to take it away.”
Dozens of people turned up at the June 13 and July 11 council meetings to testify for or against the decision. Both times, the council decided to postpone making new decisions or to reconsider their May order.
No other issue has created as much correspondence for the city over the past several years, except the controversial couplet construction that redirected traffic through town in 2007, said city manager Randy Kugler at Monday’s meeting. People have been, “either passionately for it, or passionately against it,” he said.
Philomath stopped adding fluoride to the city’s water about a month ago. However, the there is some naturally occurring fluoride in the local water source according to city officials.
In addition, Philomath shares some pipes with Corvalis from the Rock Creek treatment station. Corvallis, lowered the level of fluoride that it adds to its water earlier this year but will continue to add it at both of its treatment stations.
Before the end of the meeting, Mayor Schaudt took a moment to address citizens who had asked for a city-wide vote on the issue.
“I think its a disservice for the public to vote on it,” he said. “I'm not saying the voting public would be wrong ... but, the voting public would not do the amount of research and be as diligent (as the council has been).”
Doctors David Grube and David Cutsforth, who championed the addition of fluoride to the water supply several decades ago, and were outspoken in their opposition to the council’s decision, sat in the audience Monday night.
Schaudt addressed them directly after it was clear that the council would not reverse its decision to stop adding fluoride saying that it took “nothing away from those accomplishments.”
“20/20 hindsight is always perfect. You can’t take anything away from the decision that you made for our citizens,” Schaudt said. “But, we are 25 years down the road and there is more information out there and more questions. We have concerns and reasons we feel are valid.”