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Healdsburg voters will again decide whether to fluoridate city water

Two years after Healdsburg voters overwhelmingly agreed to keep fluoridating the city’s water, the question is again expected to appear on their ballots. But how it will be worded isn’t clear.

City Council members this week postponed placing the issue on the November ballot after anti-fluoride activists complained the proposed language prepared by city staff did not accurately reflect the text of their initiative measure.

“That ballot language is not part of the petition I signed,” said Healdsburg resident Merrilyn Joyce, who said she is seeking assurances from “reliable laboratories” that fluoridated water is safe.

In their latest campaign, fluoride opponents are asking voters to impose 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.

But the language presented by the city clerk was not so encompassing and also appeared confusing:

“Shall the City of Healdsburg continue to fluoridate its water and not institute a moratorium on the City of Healdsburg’s fluoridation of all municipal water pending further information regarding the fluoridating chemical?”

City Councilwoman Brigette Mansell, a high school English teacher, said the wording was “a little convoluted, or very convoluted.”

She said the ballot language needs to be sharper. The council will consider new language at its July 18 meeting.

In 2014, the question put to voters was much more straightforward: “Shall the City of Healdsburg continue to fluoridate its water?”

More than 64 percent of voters answered “yes” and 36 percent said “no.”

City Council members are resigned to the fact that the fluoride issue needs to revisited after more than the minimum 597 valid voter signatures were gathered in Healdsburg to place it on the ballot. But they also expressed frustration that the city will have to spend an estimated $3,000 to $9,000 to put it to voters again.

“There was a resounding support by the voters to continue to fluoridate,” said Councilman Eric Ziedrich.

“I feel somewhat remiss, or guilty, in spending that kind of taxpayer money to do it again,” he said.

“We don’t have any choice,” said Councilman Gary Plass, who added that in 2014, fluoride opponents said “all they wanted was a chance for the people of Healdsburg to vote on this. And they did two years ago. And here we are.”

Generations of Healdsburg residents have been drinking fluoridated water since 1952, when the city became one of the first in the state to add it, part of a practice that now includes most California communities and about 75 percent of the public water systems in the United States.

Most dentists and a long list of health organizations back fluoridation as a time-proven, cost-effective way to reduce cavities, safely strengthen teeth and benefit families that don’t see dentists regularly.

But critics see it as form of mass medication and a dangerous toxin that can lower IQ, decrease thyroid production and cause teeth discoloration.

“I’m losing my dog because of this. He lost thyroid function because of the water in Healdsburg,” Rosie Fabian told the City Council Monday. “The children, the animals and the elderly are being affected by this.”

Fluoride defenders, however, contend that thyroid problems result from exposure to much higher levels of fluoride than what is found in drinking water.

The Sonoma County Water Agency was weighing the possibility of fluoridating the water it provides to more than 600,000 customers, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, most other cities in Sonoma County and parts of Marin.

But county supervisors last year tabled the proposal, after expressing qualms about the cost - $4.5 million to start up the program and another $581,000 annually.

Fluoride opponents also tried to stop fluoridation in the Marin Municipal Water District, but fell short of the 14,000 voter signatures needed to get it on the November ballot.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

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