Everett City Council wearies of anti-fluoride activists

EVERETT — Kathleen Grieci came to the City Council with a list of physical ailments, an empty water jug and a warning.

The city needs to stop adding fluoride to the water, the Everett woman told city leaders earlier this month.

If it doesn’t, “I’m going to rally my community to knock on your door and to be up here speaking and to send you emails,” she told the council.

That didn’t sit well with Council President Ron Gipson.

“We appreciate what you’re saying, but our council doesn’t take too kindly to threats,” he said.

If Gipson seemed a bit tart, it might be because council members are growing weary.

In the past year, anti-fluoridation activists have asked the City Council at nearly 20 meetings to stop fluoridating water.

They claim fluoridation is linked to major health problems, including osteoporosis, kidney disease, thyroid problems, mental illness, lower intelligence in children and unsightly teeth.

They’re also asking the council to ignore Snohomish Health District experts who say scientific studies show fluoridated water is a safe, low-cost way to combat tooth decay as well as the will of Everett voters, who in 1993 voted 61 percent in favor of keeping the water fluoridated.

“That’s why we have national organizations with panels of experts who can read these studies and say what they really mean,” said LeeAnn Cooper, a registered dental hygienist who has worked for the Snohomish Health District for 25 years researching fluoridated drinking water.

The American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all strongly support community water fluoridation, she added.

The most persistent of the anti-fluoride activists is James Deal, a Lynnwood attorney with an anti-fluoride web site.

He maintains that the type of fluoride used in Everett’s drinking water is a toxic substance and does “little to nothing” to reduce dental decay.

The city supplies nearly three-quarters of Snohomish County with drinking water — including Lynnwood, where Deal lives.

He’s repeatedly asked city leaders for a moratorium on water fluoridation and more study.

In public meetings, all the council members have said they do not plan to stop fluoridating Everett’s water.

“This is why I became a lawyer,” Deal said. “I don’t like it when bullies beat up on babies and old ladies.”

Deal also asked for a special forum at City Council to air his views. City leaders granted him 15 minutes June 6. They also invited Dr. Gary Goldbaum, head of the Snohomish Health District, who shared information on what the experts say on the benefits of public water fluoridation.

Council members have received dozens of phone calls, a stack of information from activists, and numerous emails including some from overseas, said Councilman Jeff Moore.

Moore said he and other council members have spent hours reviewing the materials. He said the preponderance of scientific evidence supports fluoridation.

If city leaders thought offering the activists a forum would satisfy them, they were wrong.

Deal and others continue to speak at City Council against fluoridating water. And Deal said he plans to keep coming back.

“I’m not discouraged in the least,” he said. “Someday, Jeff Moore will thank me for having made Everett quit this vice.”

Fluoride remains the lowest cost way of preventing tooth decay for adults and children of all income levels, said Cooper, who fields questions about fluoride as part of her job with the health district.

Since fluoridation of drinking water was introduced in the 1950s, tooth decay has dropped by more than 50 percent and so have the number and size of fillings.

However, adding fluoride to water is no magic bullet. People still have to brush and floss their teeth, she said.

She watched the June 6 fluoride presentations at City Council. Cooper said she was concerned by what she heard from anti-fluoride activists.

Some of their information was flat wrong, she said; other details mischaracterized the evidence or came from studies considered unreliable by mainstream science, she said.

Everett’s fluoridation practices meet every standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the city’s annual drinking water report.

Fluoride directly fights decay on the surface of teeth but when swallowed it also becomes part of saliva, which also protects the teeth from decay, Cooper said.

There is no reliable scientific evidence that fluoridated drinking water lowers intelligence or causes thyroid or kidney problems, she said.

Fluoride can be a poisonous substance but at levels far greater than found in drinking water. That’s true of quite a few other substances, such as chlorine, which is also added to drinking water, she said.

The fluoride added to drinking water is a byproduct of phosphate fertilizer production. It’s shipped to manufacturers who purify it for use in drinking water so that it meets EPA standards.

Excessive exposure to high amounts of fluoride can causes fluorosis, which produces streaks or spots on tooth enamel. Fluorosis ranges from very mild cases that are barely noticeable, to white streaks or brown spots. Nationally, fluoridation is linked to an increase in mild cases of fluorosis, Cooper said.

In recent years, the EPA determined that a lower level of fluoride in drinking water can provide the same level of protection without increasing the risk of mild cases of fluorosis. The federal agency is now recommending lowering the amount of fluoride added to drinking water to .7 parts per million. The current recommendation is .8 to 1.2 parts per million. The city of Everett has .7 parts per million fluoride in its water.

The EPA’s new recommendation was not driven by major health concerns related to fluoride, she said.

What’s also true is that adding fluoride to a community’s drinking system removes the ability of people to choose to opt out of exposure, Cooper said.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

Common questions and concerns about fluoridated water are addressed online in “Fluoridation Facts” by the American Dental Association at www.ada.org.

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