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Published: Friday, August 10, 2012, 3:12 p.m.

Push is on to fluoridate Portland water

PORTLAND -- A coalition of more than 50 health and other organizations is quietly lobbying the City Council to fluoridate the water in Portland, one of the largest cities in the country that doesn't use the mineral to fight tooth decay.
The campaign backed by public health advocates, dentists and insurance companies hadn't surfaced publicly until The Oregonian reported on it Friday. Many in Portland and Oregon at large have long opposed public fluoridation.
City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who oversees the water bureau, supports fluoridation but said he doesn't know whether there are enough votes on the five-member City Council to approve it.
The idea is "not near-cooked enough yet to consider bringing it forward," he said. "We're still in talks. I've talked to some on the council. I would not say we're at that place yet."
The American Dental Association said San Jose, Calif., is the largest city in the country without fluoride in the water, Portland the second-largest. The water district serving San Jose has voted to begin fluoridation, but money to do so hasn't been raised.
Portland voters have three times rejected fluoridation, most recently in 1980.
One of the opponents from that campaign, Roger Burt, 69, has been fighting the idea for decades. He argues that fluoridation hurts child brain development, among other things.
"I'm in favor of this issue coming out," he said. "I think a good airing and a good vigorous campaign would only benefit us. I truly believe the facts are on our side."
A nonprofit organization, Upstream Public Health, is behind the push, which began in earnest nearly a year ago when it teamed with a well-known political consultant, Mark Wiener.
Supporters of the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition include the Oregon Dental Association, the Oregon Pediatric Society, the Northwest Health Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.
Advocates said dental health in Oregon has reached a crisis point.
Nationwide, two-thirds of the population receives fluoridated water. In Oregon, the rate is 22.6 percent -- 48th out of 50 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 35 percent of Oregon third-graders have untreated tooth decay, according to CDC numbers from five years ago. Compared with other states, which have different reporting periods, Oregon ranked fifth-worst.
"I think that our poorest and most vulnerable children are paying pretty significant consequences," said Nichole Maher, executive director for the Northwest Health Foundation.
Portland also sells water wholesale to suburban Gresham, Tigard and Tualatin. In all, the system serves about 900,000 residents.
"What I would support is A, being notified about it; B, learning about it and; C, having a public reaction from our citizens," Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said.
The administrator of the Portland Water Bureau, David Shaff, said the system is configured so that "there's no way not to provide it to everybody that gets water from us."

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