Fluoridation not imminent
State may disregard mandate if voters approve initiative
A state order to fluoridate Redding's water supply won't wash out a November vote on the issue, fluoride opponents claim.
Jeff Green, national director for San Diego-based Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, said Wednesday that the group's initiative doesn't contradict the 1995 state law mandating fluoridation. It asks the state to prove adding the chemical is a safe and effective way to fight tooth decay, he said.
The Safe Drinking Water law would ban mass medication with any chemical whose health claims lack federal Food and Drug Administration approval. The law would cover a drug like Cipro contemplated in some cities to fight anthrax.
"This ordinance does not say you can't fluoridate," said Green in a telephone interview. "It says you have to find the product that supports the health claims made for it. Our job is to ask everyone to perform due diligence."
Green's organization is sponsoring identical initiatives in other California cities such as Watsonville, in Santa Cruz County. Citizens for Safe Drinking Water is also fighting fluoridation legislation in Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Dr. David Nelson, a fluoridation consultant for the state Department of Health Services, said Wednesday that the state law would trump the Safe Drinking Water ordinance in Redding if voters approve it.
The City Council voted Tuesday to put the measure on the ballot rather than adopt it as law despite Nelson's testimony that the state was about to make the fluoridation debate moot.
City Attorney Len Wingate said the council could not reject the safe water measure outright, since it is legal. But the city could challenge it in court before the election.
The city has commitments for $2.35 million in foundation and local grants more than enough to install the necessary hydrofluosilicic acid injectors, tanks, pipes and pumps and to run the system for one year. An engineering report the council accepted Tuesday pegs the program's capital and first-year operation costs at $2.18 million.
Assembly Bill 733 requires fluoridation in public water systems with more than 10,000 hookups but only if the program won't tap local ratepayers, bond holders, taxpayers, share holders or the general fund.
Redding must fluoridate since it now has the money, Nelson said at Tuesday's meeting, and again in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Ratepayers would shell out an extra $1.08 a month for fluoridation after the first year, said Phil Perry, assistant city manager.
Asked if the rate hike would excuse the city from the law, Nelson said it would if officials could not come up with grants to cover fluoridation in future years.
"We could order you to build the system but not run it if the money's not there," Nelson said.
The city may face fluoridation costs not listed in the engineering study, Perry said in his report to the council. These include $126,000 to remove arsenic in one city well and an unknown amount to combat any pipe corrosion fluoridation might spur.
Mayor Pat Kight will soon get a letter from the state Office of Drinking Water notifying him that the city may no longer claim exemption from the 1995 law, Nelson said. That will start the clock on a two-year fluoridation deadline.
Nelson would have handed the letter to Kight at Tuesday's meeting if it were ready, he said. But state officials were rewriting the document, striking a requirement the city repay the grants if it did not commit to a decade of fluoridation.
The city must have that money with no strings attached under the state law, Wingate said at Tuesday's meeting. He was right, Nelson said.
The city could face fines up to $20,000 a day or a lawsuit from the state attorney general if it ignores the fluoridation order, Nelson said. But the state has yet to enforce the law in that manner, he said.
The Office of Drinking Water has sent letters ordering fluoridation in Escondido, Santa Maria and the Helix Water District in northern San Diego County.
However, the state did not send such a letter to the city of Modesto, which had lined up foundation grant money for fluoridation in 2000.
The California Dental Foundation pulled the grant after Modesto voters rejected fluoridation last November, Nelson said. Technically, AB733 no longer applied in the city.