Editorial: In Davis, politics trumps public health on fluoride

Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 - 12:13 am

Confronted with passionate opposition to adding fluoride to the city’s water, the Davis City Council took the easy way out.

Justifying their vote Tuesday night against fluoride, council members said they didn’t want to jeopardize support for a massive project, essential to the future of Davis, to draw 12 million gallons of water a day from the Sacramento River starting in 2016. They said that when voters approved the project in March, they didn’t know fluoride was part of the deal. Fluoridation costs would have added about $2 a month to residential customers’ water bills, and there’s already an initiative making the rounds to put rate hikes to pay for the water project on the ballot.

The council’s politically expedient rationale may have sidestepped the shaky science behind some of the opposition to fluoridation. But now council members are obligated to follow through and find real alternatives to improve dental care, especially for poorer kids.

Mayor Joe Krovoza, in the 4-1 majority on Tuesday night, says the pledge is “not just lip service.” He told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board Thursday that he’s committed to putting together an action plan within the next few months. At one point, fluoridation foes had floated the idea of a 1 percent tax on water bills to help fund dental care for poor families in Yolo County. Unsurprisingly, now the focus is on voluntary donations and foundation grants.

The council’s decision went against the recommendation of the city’s Water Advisory Committee, which spent months studying the issue. Local school, civic and health leaders all spoke in favor of fluoridation as well. Yolo County supervisors passed a resolution supporting fluoridation. While the water project is a joint production between Davis and Woodland, Woodland gets to decide for itself on fluoridation because it will have a separate pipeline.

Some environmentalists are now among the most vocal fluoride opponents. It’s true that federal officials are looking at lowering the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water following research into longer-term risks and the prevalence in toothpaste and other consumer products. Still, the public health establishment says that fluoridation remains a safe and effective method to prevent tooth decay and is one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century.

Krovoza, however, says there should be an “exceptionally high bar” for government to put a substance in people’s bodies. Coupled with a very divided community, he wasn’t willing to stick his neck out for fluoridation.

Only Councilman Dan Wolk stood up for the right policy. He is going up against Krovoza, along with several other candidates, for the state Assembly seat being vacated next year by Mariko Yamada. On this issue, Wolk demonstrated real courage.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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