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Sonoma city officials could consider joining Cotati and Sebastopol in opposing fluoridation of the county’s drinking water.

City Council members will dive into the issue Wednesday night after anti-fluoridation activist Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh urged them to take action against a proposal to add fluoride to water supplied by the Sonoma County Water Agency. The city gets about 95 percent of its water from the agency.

“I’m reaching out to every city that’s affected,” Gallagher-Stroeh said. “My sole purpose to putting it on the agenda is to open it up for discussion.”

The county is considering fluoridation as part of a multipronged effort to prevent tooth decay and reduce dental care costs. Health officials say it’s the best intervention after a recent survey revealed 51 percent of kindergartners and third-graders experience tooth decay.

“The lack of dental health is a severe problem in Sonoma County,” said Dr. Karen Milman, the county’s health officer. “We know 18 percent of kindergartners in Sonoma County are in need of dental care and 4 percent need it urgently.”

However, Gallagher-Stroeh argued fluoridation is unsafe and an ineffective way to deal with tooth decay. She wants city officials to challenge the county.

It’s not the first time the matter has come before the Sonoma City Council.

In 2013, former Councilman Steve Barbose requested the city send a letter to the county in opposition to adding fluoride to the drinking water after presentations from both county officials and fluoridation critics.

“But it was never sent,” Mayor David Cook said Tuesday about the letter.

City Manager Carol Giovanatto said the letter wasn’t written “because the county is still drafting and reviewing the fluoridation plans.”

The Water Agency provides drinking water to 600,000 customers in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Windsor, Valley of the Moon and parts of Marin. There are more than 4,000 customers in Sonoma, Giovanatto said.

With three new council members on the dais, Cook said it was a good time to revisit the issue. He requested that the item be added to the agenda.

Cook said he’s “keeping an open mind” but questioned whether the money would be better spent on educating children about oral hygiene and providing them with fluoride tablets. He fears residents would not drink the tap water and just use it to irrigate their lawns.

“The money could be better spent in other ways,” Cook said.

Milman argued it’s premature to take a position against the project. Officials still are working through the details of how the project will work, she said.

“We’re still in the evaluation and assessment phase,” she said.

Recommendations are expected to go before the Sonoma County supervisors later this year. County officials estimate it will cost up to $587,000 a year to inject fluoride into the drinking water.

Despite the criticism, Milman said the benefits of fluoride are “proven.” About 70 percent of the U.S. population receives fluoride through drinking water, she said.

“I would hope the cities do their research to greater understand the benefits of fluoridation,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story did not include Sebastopol as one of the cities that opposes the fluoridation of the drinking water supplied by the county Water Agency. Sebastopol is not served by the Water Agency.

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