Thursday, February 20, 2003
Movie fans will recall that in Stanley Kubrick''s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove, Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper starts World War III, because (besides being a war-crazed hawk) Ripper is convinced that fluoridation of public water supplies is a "Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."
The idea of adding fluoride to public drinking water began in 1945 with apparently good intentions. By ensuring that the chemical was distributed to the public in tap water, civic leaders decided they could protect their poorer citizens from tooth decay. Dental associations and health agencies are on the record supporting water fluoridation. However it''s not standard practice around the country--locally, only navy housing in Monterey has fluoridated water.
But now, as a result of a civil grand jury report issued by Monterey County in January, all local governments from King City to Carmel must respond by April to a recommendation that fluoride be added to the water supply.
A national organization called Citizens for Safe Drinking Water advocates against it, claiming that the health benefits are dubious. Despite claims to the contrary, some believe ingesting fluoride, rather than just brushing your teeth with it, is unhealthful.
Although nobody is threatening to start a thermonuclear conflict over tap water, fluoridation does have its vocal opponents. In Watsonville for example, a November 2002 ballot effort successfully stymied a city council initiative to fluoridate, putting the city in the strange position of having to choose between state law and voter sentiment.
The same could happen here as the matter of whether or not to fluoridate will begin showing up on local city council agendas.
The various municipalities have until April 2, 2003 to respond to the grand jury. The City of Monterey reviewed the matter at its meeting this week.
Dan Reith, jury foreman, cannot say how exactly the matter arose--the civil grand jury convenes to investigate local government functions, schools and public services, and its deliberations are closed to the public. But Reith concedes that, "It was suggested to us by a public official as an area where a great deal could be achieved by local government if somebody got on it."
Reith says the grand jury researched the matter and called for testimony from state officials, two local water companies and those with knowledge of legal research. No testimony was provided against fluoride.
"We''re aware there is opposition but we didn''t have testimony before us in any significant detail," he says.
Reith could not reveal how the grand jury voted, but not all 19 jurors were in favor of the idea.
"I''m not sure everybody signed off on it," Reith says. "There was an expression of doubt."
According to state law, fluoridation is required for communities of more than 10,000 water connections, if money is available for implementation.
"The problem is getting funds to force the issue," Reith says.
The state used to provide the funds but that program no longer exists.
The water companies are taking a wait-and-see position.
Kevin Tilden, spokesman for Cal-Am Water, says the company provides fluoridation to a third of its 172,000 water connections across the state. Here Cal-Am provides water to about 38,000 households in Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Del Rey Oaks, Seaside, Sand City and Pebble Beach. But it does not fluoridate the water.
"We really take our lead from the community and what they want and desire," Tilden says.
To do so here would be complicated because there are two reservoirs on the Carmel River and about 30 wells. "It''s not like there''s one huge well or one huge reservoir," he says.
Evelina Adlawan, manager of the Marina Coast Water District, says the district board will take a vote at its Feb. 26 meeting. She has provided members with information on the issue and recommends against fluoridation. With under 10,000 connections--3,500 in Marina and 3,500 in Fort Ord--she says the district is not required by law to fluoridate.
"It all depends on what our board decides on Wednesday," Adlawan says.
The grand jury report notes that in 2002 the City of Watsonville was provided the funds it would need to implement fluoridation but has not done so.
According to Watsonville city manager Carlos Palacios, the city council supported fluoridation and sought out the funds to do it. Last year it got a $900,000 grant from the California Dental Association Foundation to install the system and run it for a year. But organized citizens opposed to fluoridation got the issue on the November ballot and the people of Watsonville voted down fluoridation by what Palacios says was a "small margin."
"They were afraid of the potential health effects," he says.
But Watsonville faces a dilemma. Under state law, if an entity has the funds to fluoridate, then it must. The city council now must decide whether or not to ignore the will of the voters and comply with the state law, or ignore state law and pay a $200-per day fine. The city council must decide in April.
"They''re in a hard position," Palacios says.
Meanwhile, opposition here is mounting. Lorna Moffat, a local activist who concentrates on environmental health issues, plans to speak at the Monterey City Council meeting this week. She''s in contact with the anti-fluoridation group, Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, which led the successful campaign in Watsonville.
Moffat says she has studied the science and found the health benefits to be questionable. She claims, as other opponents do, that excess fluoride actually weakens bones and teeth, one reason she cites for the endorsement from the health care community.
"The dentists will have a great business and so will the doctors," she says. "It''s just incredible what is happening. The civil grand jury report didn''t look at the dark side of fluoride."
Indeed, Maureen Jones, who led the successful opposition campaign in Watsonville, says Monterey County can expect the same here. She says she''s in contact with citizens like Moffat who plan to rally against fluoride. In Watsonville she provided information and pamphlets, as she does daily around the state through Citizens for Safe Drinking Water.
In Watsonville, she says she talked to the locals but it didn''t take that much work to turn them against fluoridation.
"People didn''t want to be mass-medicated with a one-size-fits-all experimental drug," she says. "If you want fluoride in your toothpaste, go do that, but don''t ever ingest the stuff."