Rachel Gordon
June 06, 2000

Supervisor revives fluoride concerns
Leno wants water treatment study passed finally

A decade after ex-Supervisor Wendy Nelder's long-fought and er66x ventually unsuccessful battle to get San Francisco to remove fluoride from its drinking water, Supervisor Mark Leno is resurrecting the idea as something at least worthy of study.

"It's time San Francisco revisited the issue," Leno said Monday. "There's a lot more information since (Nelder's) efforts."

He called on the Board of Supervisors' legislative analyst to issue a report on the pros and cons of water fluoridation. That will be followed by a public hearing, Leno said.

Leno, whose teeth are the most sparkling white among his colleagues, has joined the chorus of concerns over whether fluoride does more harm than good.

While the water additive has proven its effectiveness at preventing tooth decay and has the backing of professional dental organizations, some studies have linked it to other health problems, including lead poisoning, a weakening of the bones and cancer. At the same time, others question the studies' findings.

"I don't want to blow this out of proportion and jeopardize public confidence in our public
water supply system," Leno said. "But this is something that should be looked at."

The debate over fluoride has raged since the 1950s, dividing communities, launching conspiracy theories and sparking election battles.

Last year, Santa Cruz voted to keep fluoride out of its water; a year before, Mountain Viewvoted to put it in. Across the country, results at the polls have been mixed.

In 1995, the Legislature passed a law requiring that all public water systems with more than 10,000 connections add fluoride when state funds become available.

San Francisco has fluoridated its drinking water since 1951. The City's water supply system, which taps the resource from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir near Yosemite, serves 2.4 million customers throughout the greater Bay Area. About 30 percent of the Hetch Hetchy supply outside The City is not fluoridated, although there's talk of bringing everyone into the fold, said Barbara Hennessey, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Nelder, who served on the board for three terms starting in 1981, first pushed her anti-fluoride campaign in 1985, but couldn't muster support from her colleagues. Five years later, she tried again, but was stymied then, too.

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