Santa Barbara Rejects California's Mandated Fluoridation

By a 5 to 2 margin on November 23, 1999, the City Council of Santa Barbara voted in favor of a resolution that, "... disagrees with and rejects the State's recommendation to fluoridate the city's public water system."

The resolution was fashioned by the City Council in response to a request for a protective ordinance from the local chapter of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water that involved appearances by more than 150 citizens before the Board of Water Commissioners for Santa Barbara, the water boards of neighboring Montecito, Carpinteria, and Goleta who receive water from Santa Barbara, and a joint water board forum held to allow public discussion.

In all of the public sessions combined, other than a sprinkling of representatives of the dental profession and the public health department, less than 10 citizens of the communities involved spoke to support the State's 1995 enactment of a law requiring that all water suppliers with more than 10,000 service connections fluoridate their public water supplies.

With this action Santa Barbara, No. 9 on the State's fluoridation priority list, joins the California cities of Santa Cruz (No. 12), El Cajon, La Mesa, and Escondido (No. 4), and Helix (No. 1), Riverview, and Lakeside water districts that have each passed protective resolutions or ordinances this year.

The cities of San Diego (No. 18) and Sunnyvale (No. 81) have ordinances prohibiting fluoridation that pre-date the State's law.

Although several Council Members questioned whether an ordinance would not be the strongest defense of the City's position, City Attorney Dan Wallace replied that no matter which approach the Council took, should the State elect to force compliance the city would most likely invoke the "municipal affairs doctrine." This doctrine applies to cities that have their own constitutional charter, which among other tests requires that any law of statewide concern be "narrowly tailored" so it does not intrude on the rights of cities to manage their own affairs.

Other legal scholars are of the opinion that the State would not prevail in such a court test. They point to the facts that 99.5% of the fluoridated water never passes human lips; that the target audience of children who debatably could receive some benefit are dwarfed by the number of citizens who would have to abandon the water supply if fluoridated, either by choice or because they have been diagnosed as especially susceptible with kidney diseases such as diabetes, or heart conditions, or thyroid/iodine deficiencies; that the fluoride can not be economically removed by simple filtration; and because fluoride is already available from multiple sources, including commonly purchased foods and beverages, and could be administered by other less-intrusive delivery methods.

Mayor Harriet Miller, referencing her background in chemistry, stated that adding a chemical to the water supply to medicate everyone was not the right approach and requested that the City's staff draft a letter to the appropriate health agencies to look into other programs that are intended for children from birth to 5 years of age to devise a method of getting the appropriate care directly to the individuals who truly need it and when they need it.

Council Member Tom Roberts proposed a parallel ordinance that was also considered on the same Council agenda that called for a prohibition of adding any substance to the water supply that was intended to treat humans rather than the water __ no matter how beneficial they seem. He called into question whether the City's mission in managing the water was to deliver the purest potable water or to mass medicate, and asked why adding Prozac (fluoxetene, another fluorine-based product) to counter depression wasn't of equal rationale.

Council Member Gil Garcia favored a more community-based hands-on educational and health care approach and requested that university-based institutions do real studies to determine how much fluoride children are already receiving in their communities, and where, or whether, a deficiency truly exists.

Council Member Marty Blum favored, "... a treatment plan to address the specific problem, not to medicate the whole city on the chance that the kids may drink the water." Blum related that we have come a long way in our understanding about chemicals, and what they can do, since initiating fluoridation in the 1940's, "We can be much smarter about this."

As the last Council Member to speak, Gregg Hart said simply and concisely that using the water supply is a policy that infringes on individual choice and is a step beyond public policy for the greater good, "It is not appropriate."

Casting one of the two dissenting votes, Council Member Elinor Langor cited her trust in the long-time endorsers of fluoridation, without addressing the specific request from Citizens for Safe Drinking Water for now-time due diligence.

The other vote against the resolution came from Council Member Dan Secord, "Finally, a health issue, and I can say trust me, I'm a doctor."

Dr. Secord still has not responded to a personal challenge published in the Santa Barbara News-Press to answer questions that would give credence to his position from his perspective as a doctor.

The questions focused on identifying the total exposure to fluoride from all sources as all doctors must do before prescribing, and considering the 29.9% of children in "optimally" fluoridated communities that are already displaying visible signs of fluoride poisoning; the standard of care created by dental and pediatric associations that indicate that adding fluoride to the water would result in mass medication at a higher level than any professional could prescribe in controlled-dose to infants and children under 6; and the differences between the quality of prescription fluorides and the hazardous waste substance from the phosphate fertilizer industry that is used to fluoridate, but has never been tested for safety or effectiveness in animals or humans.