FLUORIDE GETS THE BRUSH OFF

Council votes 5-3 against adding chemical
to city's drinking water

January 17, 2002
By Tom Ragan The Gazette

Colorado Springs residents will have to rely on the old-fashioned method of getting extra fluoride: brushing with fluoride toothpaste.

That's because the city, after nine months of sometimes acrimonious debate, has decided not to add fluoride to drinking water.

The Colorado Springs City Council, acting as the Utilities board, voted 5-3 after another public hearing Wednesday to reject a proposal to add hydro-fluosilicic acid to two-thirds of the city's water - a move that would have fluoridated the water on the northeast side of the city.

Water in the remainder of the city is naturally fluoridated. Utilities board members said they still aren't certain the acid is safe. Some said they didn't think it was government's role to dabble in public health.

Local dentists have been pushing for fluoridation for years. In 1999, they told the Utilities board that cavities and tooth decay were more prevalent in the northeast section of the city, where the water is not fluoridated.

In mid-April, the board was ready to give the fluoridation program the green light.

But that's when a group of concerned citizens showed up to protest, saying the acid was unsafe.

The group, It's Not Fluoride Only, cited numerous studies, including one from Dartmouth University, that showed hydrofluosilicic acid raised the level of lead in the blood when consumed in water.

The Utilities board decided to study the matter further. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was called numerous times for its opinion.

Though opponents refer to the acid as an industrial waste byproduct that comes directly from the phosphate fertilizer industry, the CDC said the acid is safe once it breaks down in water.

At Wednesday's public hearing, perhaps the most emotional testimony came from 41-year-old Carol Geltemeyer, a Colorado Springs woman who was two months pregnant and approached the public hearing podium with her 2-year-old daughter in her arms.

"If you do this, I'm going to have to go out and buy bottled water," Geltemeyer said. "Leave it up to the parents. Leave it up to us. If you take away our choice, you're taking away our responsibilities."

Councilman Ted Eastburn, who voted in favor of fluoridation, said he found it hard to believe that some Utilities board members failed to place their trust in the CDC. "It's the same agency we're turning to for help in the threat of bioterrorism," Eastburn said, moments before he cast his
vote.

But Richard Skorman said he voted against the measure because conflicting studies and conflicting evidence prevented him from conscientiously voting in favor of fluoridation. "It's not that I'm convinced that it's dangerous," he said. "I'm not, but it makes me nervous."

Councilwoman Margaret Radford said if there had been no other method by which Springs residents could obtain fluoride, she probably would have "caved in" and voted in favor of the measure.

Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, who voted in favor of fluoridation, scolded the anti-fluoride people for breeding hysteria when passing out petitions.

"They talked about it in terms of 'poison' and 'toxic waste,'" she said. "The emotionalism got ahead of the data."

The decision was made in a matter of minutes after nearly three hours of testimony by both sides. Other board members who voted against fluoridation were Charles Wingate, Sallie Clark and Judy Noyes. Lionel Rivera voted in favor of it. James Null was not present.

106 JUST SAY NO

Ninety percent of utilities companies across the country that fluoridate their water use the liquid or powder form of hydrofluosilicic acid. More than 100 million U.S. citizens from San Francisco to Seattle to Florida to Maine have been drinking it for the past five decades.

With the decision Wednesday, Colorado Springs now becomes the 106th city in the United States since 1990 to halt or reject fluoridating its water.

Some of the other communities:

Arizona: Flagstaff
California: Modesto, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz
Colorado: Erie
Florida: Palm Beach County
Hawaii: Maui County
Kansas: Winfield
Massachusetts: Worcester
Nebraska: Grand Island
Pennsylvania: Erie
Utah: Wood Cross and Tooele
Vermont: Bennington
Washington: Olympia and Spokane