Panel decides to continue fluoridating drinking water
Sept. 11, 2012 02:00 PM
Phoenix will not remove fluoride from the drinking water of 1.4 million residents, a subcommittee of city council members decided Tuesday.
After nearly two hours of heated testimony from advocates on both sides of the debate, council members agreed without taking a vote to keep adding fluoride to the city's water supply. They could have sent the issue to the full council.
Councilwoman Thelda Williams, who moved to reaffirm the policy, said the medical community has provided sufficient evidence to show that fluoridating water has a public-health benefit. She dismissed claims that it lowers IQ levels in children.
"I just feel very strongly that I think what we're doing is the right thing to do," Williams said. "I think public health is the responsibility of government."
Phoenix has been reevaluating the issue this year for the first time since the city council voted for fluoridation in 1989. Several members said the practice needed a second look in light of new science and to determine if it's still a good investment.
Although the council members on Tuesday appeared to agree that fluoride improves the city's overall health by preventing tooth decay, they asked staff to look further into how the cost compares with other cities. Phoenix spends about $582,000 per year on fluoride.
Opponents of fluoridation filled much of the audience at the subcommittee meeting, often shouting claims that fluoride is dangerous or has been used by governments to poison their people. They said studies have linked fluoridation to thyroid and neurological disorders, among other problems.
William Hirzy, a chemistry professor at American University, testified against fluoridation, saying that the city uses a form of fluoride equivalent to toxic waste. At one point, Hirzy suggested that the federal government began promoting fluoridation decades ago to protect defense contractors who spilled it into water.
Public health administrators and dentists spoke in favor of continuing fluoridation, saying the overwhelming majority of scientific studies support their position. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Dental Association both endorse the practice.
Bob England, a doctor and director of the Maricopa County Department of Health, said fluoride significantly lowers rates of tooth decay, particularly in low-income areas where residents cannot afford dental care. He said that no "credible, scientific sources" have found any serious side effects.