PORTLAND, Ore. — The Sierra Club and three other environmental groups announced Wednesday they are opposing a ballot measure to add fluoride to Portland’s drinking water.
The groups contend that adding fluoride to water would harm people and aquatic life, and outweigh any benefits to dental health.
“Sierra Club opposes fluoridation because it would degrade some of the purest drinking water in the world,” said Antonia Giedwoyn, a spokeswoman for the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental organization. “Kids are already bombarded with multiple toxins from plastics, pesticides and air pollution.”
The Portland City Council last year unanimously approved a plan to add fluoride. Until the vote, Portland was the largest city in the U.S. yet to approve water fluoridation to combat tooth decay. Opponents, however, quickly gathered more than 30,000 signatures to force a referendum that’s set for May 21.
Many in Portland and the state have long opposed public fluoridation, saying it’s unsafe and violates an individual’s right to consent to medication. While nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population drinks water treated with fluoride, the rate is less than 25 percent in Oregon.
The issue presents a clash between liberal desires to improve the dental health of low-income children and refrain from putting anything unnecessary in the water. Giedwoyn, who said the national Sierra Club allows its chapters to take positions on local issues, said the group supports comprehensive dental care for children, “but this is the wrong path to that goal.”
Three other environmental groups, Columbia Riverkeeper, Organic Consumers Association and Food and Water Watch, joined the Sierra Club in opposing Portland’s fluoridation measure. “We have major environmental organizations stepping up to the plate and saying that fluoridation is not good for Oregonians and it’s not good for anyone,” said Kim Kaminski, director of the anti-fluoridation group Clean Water Portland.
Columbia Riverkeeper said in a news release that the Columbia and many of its tributaries already have “an overload” of toxic chemicals, and Portland has not adequately evaluated the impact fluoridation will have on salmon.
Mel Rader, the co-director of pro-fluoride Upstream Public Health, responded to coordinated criticism with a statement saying fluoridation is vital for public health and noting that the Columbia already has naturally occurring fluoride.
“Fluoridation in Portland would not increase the fluoride level in the river by a detectable amount, and would be far less than the natural variability of the river, resulting in no effect on aquatic life, including salmon,” he said.