York voters give fluoridated drinking water the brush off

YORK -- The York ban stands on fluoridation.

BY Art Hovey
Lincoln Journal Star

May 7, 2003

Voters who wanted to retain a three-decade ban on adding fluoride to York's drinking water prevailed Tuesday 1,018 to 913 in a special election.[Note:York is just outside Lincoln Nebraska]

The lead changed hands several times at the York County Courthouse before the final outcome became known about 9:30 p.m.

The unofficial total was also a victory for Wesley Trollope and Citizens for Safe Water and a defeat for the York Fluoride Committee.

Trollope reacted to victory by tapping the Bible he carried under his arm and reciting the Lord's Prayer.

"What's so hard for anyone to understand that you just don't put poison in another man's water?" he said.

Margaret Brink, a member of the York City Council and president of the York County Board of Health, sat tensely near the vote-tabulating room at the courthouse and then slumped in her chair.

Why the obvious suspicion about fluoride, Brink was asked?

"I think that's in every community," she said. "I suppose as a society we're not very trusting of one another. And although our water is not pure, there's something about wanting pure water."

An 8-0 vote by the York City Council last summer put a population of about 8,000 on a course toward fluoridation.

The council's action had strong support from dentists and other health professionals promoting fluoride's inhibiting effects on tooth decay.

But the vote was preceded by strong objections from what appeared to be a small group of citizens. They raised concerns about brittle bones, diminished brain function and heavy-handed government. They also began a petition drive that eventually produced more than 1,500 valid signatures.

That was about 300 more than necessary to get the measure on the ballot.

Potentially confusing ballot language called on fluoride supporters to vote no to turn back the petition challenge and uphold council action. Those against fluoridation had to vote yes to uphold the ban and contradict the council.

More than 70 percent of the state's population, including Omaha and Lincoln, drink water treated with fluoride.

The Tuesday election was preceded by months of give and take in letters to the editor of the local newspaper. Sometimes the tone turned bitter.

"I'm not a Communist. I'm not a Nazi. I'm not anti-American and I'm not receiving any money from the aluminum companies," Brink said with a weary smile.

She suggested that part of the momentum behind the opposition is part of a local pattern of challenging city government decisions. York had two special elections in 2001 on swimming pool and sidewalks issues.

"Some of this vote is anti-city government and not necessarily anti-fluoride."

Besides casting his grateful eyes toward Heaven, Trollope cast them toward several supporters who helped him with the petition drive and, in at least one case, clasped hands and whispered prayers as they awaited the final result with him.

He called them "these wonderful ladies who are descended from the pioneer women of the early days."

York dentist Mark Brouillette, one of the leaders of the York Fluoride Committee, called the outcome "sad. The thing that bothers me the most," he said, "is that there are so many kids here who will have a hardship with their teeth, just because of some ignorance."