Cotati says no to fluoridation
Too many variables prompt council to unanimously vote against county’s plan
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By Dave Williams  November 15, 2013 12:00 am

Cotati became the first city in Sonoma County to voice an opinion on the concept of water fluoridation throughout the county at its City Council meeting on Sept. 12. 

And after hearing presentations from proponents and opponents of fluoridation as well as a number of audience members, the council responded with a unanimous no vote at around 10:45 p.m.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to take up this issue sometime in the spring of 2014, and thus far, the board has seemed in favor of fluoridation. Before the issue is actually voted on by the county board, representatives from the Sonoma County Dept. of Health Services will go to council meetings throughout Sonoma County extolling the virtues of fluoridation, while opponents will be at the same meetings trying to dispel their case.

On Tuesday, Kim Caldeway made the case for the county health department, while Sonoma County Water Coalition co-founder Stephen Fuller Rowell and local dentist Richard Shames spoke against fluoridation. Each side, as expected, came equipped with the requisite statistics and results from various studies. And one of the areas of agreement was that dental care in the county is lacking.

One of the council’s primary concerns was the fact that if fluoridation goes into effect, Cotati residents will lose the choice of whether or not they’d like fluoride in their water. Councilwoman Susan Harvey likened fluoridation to prescribing a drug to a person who may not want it or need it.

“I can’t help but to believe that this is a drug, no matter how I look at it. And people should have choices about whether they want to take drugs or not,” Harvey said. “I just don’t feel like I have enough overwhelming information that shows me this is not a medicine.”

Another concern was the effect fluoridation would have on wildlife. More than 95 percent of water, whether it contains fluoride or not, is not drunk, which means it often flows down the drain and into the water supply.

“I have a concern about any chemical mixing in our water ways with other chemicals,” Dell’Osso. “Chemicals can react with each other to create something harmful to wildlife, which is something we’ve worked hard to build back up.” 

Fluoride, a chemical compound, first made its way into drinking water supplies in the United States nearly 70 years ago. Nearly 75 percent of the nation’s population using public water systems are now receiving fluoridated water. The fluoridation concept has the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surgeon general, the World Health Organization and the American Dental Association.

Caldeway, cited those groups and also said the rash of tooth decay among those is lower-income areas is one reason for fluoridation because it would give such residents the needed fluoride to lower the rates of tooth decay.

Rowell and Shames said fluoridation does much more harm than good. They warned of how certain levels of fluoride added to the water supply could be harmful to children or those with thyroid problems.

Other than those representing the county health department, everyone in the audience was staunchly against fluoridation.

State law mandates that cities with more than 10,000 water connections add fluoride to their water supplies. But Cotati has fewer than 8,000 connections, which means the state mandate does not apply. Still, if the board votes for fluoridation, Cotati would have no choice but to accept the fluoridated water.

The only fluoridated water in Sonoma County currently is delivered to residents of Healdsburg, the Fitch Mountain area and Two Rock Coast Guard Base. The fluoridation project for the county would affect around 350,000 residents served by the Sonoma County Water Agency in Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Forestville, Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon. Also, because in excess of 50,000 Novato-area residents also are served by the water agency, they’d be getting fluoridated water for the first time.

Preliminary estimates show the project could cost up to $8.5 million in upgrades to the county’s central water system as well as maintenance starting at more than $900,000 per year, according to a county report.

Caldeway was unable to give a distinct answer as to how the project would be funded.

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