Healdsburg fluoride opponents to try again for ballot measure
Undaunted by a resounding defeat at the ballot box in 2014, opponents of fluoridation are mounting another try to convince Healdsburg voters to stop adding the substance to the city’s water supply.
Fluoride opponents are gathering voter signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, hoping the outcome will be different from last time, when 64 percent of voters said “yes” to keeping fluoride in the water and 34 percent said “no.”
This time around, they have shifted their approach to seeking a moratorium on the additive - which is widely used to combat tooth decay - until the city and fluoride suppliers provide detailed chemical reports and a written statement verifying its safety for ingestion.
Opponents also have opened up a new front in Marin County, pursuing a near-identical ballot measure to stop fluoridation in the Marin Municipal Water District, where the practice has been in place since the 1970s.
Their ultimate goal is to stop adding fluoride to the water entirely, despite scores of medical and scientific organizations that endorse the practice as a way to cut down on cavities, safely strengthen teeth and benefit families that don’t regularly visit the dentist.
But critics view the chemical compound as an unsafe form of mass medication and say it may not work in reducing tooth decay. They claim recent studies show it may cause lower IQs in children, hypothyroidism and some cancers.
“We are asking them to turn it off until they prove it is safe,” said Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh, the executive director of Clean Water Sonoma-Marin. The group is seeking to end fluoridation in Marin, as well as Healdsburg, the only community in Sonoma County that has it.
“They have to shut it off until they can provide verifiable safety studies for ingestion by all consumers,” she said.
Additives in drinking water have to meet standards for quality and safety, and fluoride conforms to those, said Alicia Malaby, spokeswoman for the California Dental Association.
She said a testing and certification program administered by NSF, formerly the National Sanitation Foundation, was established precisely so that states and waterworks facilities would have a mechanism to determine which products are safe to use.
Almost two-thirds of Californians have fluoridated water. And 75 percent of the U.S. population on public water systems - more than 210 million people - had access to fluoridated water in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC considers fluoridation of drinking water a significant health achievement, due to the dramatic decline in tooth decay across the country.
Gallagher-Stroeh, a former Rohnert Park City Council member and fluoride skeptic, is an activist who unsuccessfully sought to convince Healdsburg voters to end the more than 60-year-old practice of adding it to the municipal water supply.
She also is opposed to a Sonoma County Water Agency proposal to fluoridate its water supply to more than 600,000 customers, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, most other cities in Sonoma County and parts of Marin.
Getting approximately 600 signatures, or 10 percent of Healdsburg’s 6,000 registered voters to again put the issue on the ballot, is considered fairly easy, with the signature drive kicking off this week and five months to accomplish the task.
But organizers acknowledge it could be tough to get the signatures of 14,000 Marin County voters by April 30 to place the issue on the ballot there. And even if a majority of voters were to vote against fluoride, Marin water officials say there is a strong argument that their district would need to continue the practice, since state law requires utilities with more than 10,000 service connections to fluoridate if the funds are available.
Healdsburg City Council members doubt whether the outcome will be any different this time around in their city.
“It seems like voters were pretty clear. They supported what we were currently doing” with the city’s water supply, Mayor Tom Chambers said Friday.
“The community has spoken,” Councilman Gary Plass said. “From my point of view, I don’t think the science has changed that much. I think the community believes it’ s been a beneficial supplement to our water and at this point will continue to use it.”
Fluoride opponents, however, believe their cause will be bolstered by a Sonoma County Department of Health Services study that came out after the last election, indicating fluoride didn’t benefit Healdsburg children in cutting dental decay.
But Dr. Karen Milman, Sonoma County’s public health officer, said the study was not so definitive.