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OR: Fluoride fighters face uphill battle in fight to get issue on ballot

By   /   September 18, 2012  /   News  /   16 Comments

By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog

Cleanwater Portland wants to keep fluoride out of the city’s water. It says the City Council should have put this issue to a public vote instead of approving it Wednesday.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland may be the country’s last large city to fill its cup with fluoridated water, but it’s not the first to draw the angst of residents fearful of the now common practice.

The debate between dental health advocates trying to decrease tooth decay and residents leery of exposure to fluoride keeps surfacing, as cities join the fluoridation trend that started more than 60 years ago.

As Portlanders take to the streets, gathering signatures for a petition against the City Council’s decision last week to add fluoride to the drinking water, they join a national debate that fluoride advocates appear to be winning.

Portland residents who oppose fluoridation say they don’t want a substance added to their drinking water and fear it could have harmful health effects from discolored teeth to a lower IQ in children.

The group, led by Clean Water Portland, a political action committee formed to fight the fluoridation of Portland’s water, has less than 30 days to collect 20,000 signatures for a referendum that would effectively stall the project, which would cost water ratepayers $5 million.

Kimberly Kaminski, director of Cleanwater Portland, argues fluoridation is not the answer to dental health issues.

“It is the cheapest, most ineffective Band-Aid that we have instead of addressing the real issue, with which is access to dental care,” she said

In addition to the potential health hazards of fluoride, opponents in Portland are up in arms over the City Council’s decision — prompted by a push from dental and other health advocates — to move forward without a public vote.

But despite the opposition and residents packing the council chambers for hours, Portland commissioners unanimously voted in favor of fluoridation, hailing it as a public health priority.

Since Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first community more than 60 years ago to add fluoride to the public’s drinking water, the trend has spread nationwide. Nearly 74 percent of Americans, who get their water from municipal systems, now drink fluoridated water, according to the American Dental Association.

Portland’s opposition movement is not unlike that in other major cities recently considering fluoridation, including San Jose, Calif., which is implementing fluoridation and Wichita, Kan., where voters will decide the issue in November. And, Kaminski argues, though it’s widespread in the United States, fluoride is not used everywhere.

“Most large cities in the world don’t fluoridate. It’s something that’s fairly unique to this country,” she said. “I think the argument that everybody else is doing it is not a good argument.”

The World Health Organization acknowledges the risks and benefits of fluoridation in water.

In addition to Portland, Tuscon, Ariz., and Fresno, Calif., are the only other large-cities that have not added fluoride to their water, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Brittany Raines said in an email. Albuquerque, N.M., doesn’t add fluoride, but its natural levels are close to those recommended, she added.

Cleanwater Portland must collect 20,000 signatures — it is shooting for 27,000 to be safe — for a referendum that would halt the city’s fluoridation project, scheduled to be up and running by March 2014.

“People are coming out of the woodwork. People are very passionate about this issue,” Kaminski said.

Cleanwater Portland and other volunteers announced shortly after the City Council’s decision Wednesday that they would start collecting signatures for a referendum. She said they have hundreds of volunteers and are trying to raise money for this grassroots effort.

Opponents are up in arms over the council’s unanimous decision that was pushed by Commissioner Randy Leonard. Kaminski and others feel their voices weren’t heard and it should have gone to a public vote.

“That is not a democracy,” she said. “That is a blatant violation of due process.”

Portland residents have voted down fluoridation three times in the past, and it had not been considered for 30 years, until the Everybody Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition, a group of health and educational organizations, and Upstream Public Health, a nonprofit that advocates for policy solutions to public health problems, pushed for the fluoridation of Portland’s water.

The Healthy Teeth Coalition wants to decrease the rate of tooth decay in Oregon and believes fluoridating the water is the most effective way to do it. “We can’t start soon enough. I see significant differences in the teeth of the children from fluoridated Vancouver and Beaverton and children from non-fluoridated Portland,” Dr. Jim Smith, a dentist at Kaiser Permanente, said in a news release from the coalition.

Upstream could not be reached for comment.

Supporters of fluoridated water, including the ADA and CDC, say it prevents dental decay, rates of which have dropped since fluoridation started 67 years ago. Opponents argue drinking the fluoride poses risks from tooth discoloration to bone disease to a lowered IQ in children.

Leonard’s policy adviser Stu Oishi said the commissioner pushed fluoridation after seeing data provided by fluoride proponents that showed a dental hygiene crisis in Portland. According to the Healthy Teeth group, one-third of children suffer from untreated dental decay.

“It’s upsetting to see how many folks out there suffer from just bad dental health hygiene,” he said.

In Oregon, 835,834 residents drink fluoridated water. If Portland’s fluoridation system is built, that will add about 932,000 more.

The upfront construction cost for the project is $5 million and will take more than $500,000 a year to operate and maintain. Water rates are expected to increase by 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent or 8 to 11 cents a month for the average customer that pays $26.64 a month. That rate increase would cover the capital cost, but it would take more to operate the system. The details are still being worked out, according to the Portland Water Bureau.

If Clean Water Portland can get enough signatures, the issue would go to the ballot in May 2014 and would stall the project.

“Who knows how long it takes to construct this,” Oishi said. Plans for construction of a fluoridation plant still have to go before City Council.

Contact Shelby Sebens at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @ShelbySebens.

For more Northwest Watchdog updates, visit Facebook and Twitter.


Riders board the MAX light rail at the Clackamas Transit Center in 2009, photo by TriMet.org By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog


Shelby formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Fluoridation is a Waste of Tax Money

    As a Civil Engineer, I know that people drink only 1/2% (one-half percent) of the water they use. The remaining 99 ½ % of the water with this toxic industrial waste fluoride chemical (Hexafluorosilicic acid) is dumped directly into the environment through the sewer system.

    For example, for every $1000 of fluoride chemical added to water, $995 would be directly wasted down the drain in toilets, showers, dishwashers, etc., $5 would be consumed in water by the people, and less than $0.50 (fifty cents) would be consumed by children, the target group for this outdated practice.

    That would be comparable to buying one gallon of milk, using six-and-one-half drops of it, and pouring the rest of the gallon in the sink.

  • While not a big city, Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk Counties)New York contains 3 million people who enjoy NON-fluoridated water and have lower tooth decay rates than most of the fluoridated counties in NYS which is otherwise 72% fluoridated
    Portland Fluoridation fighters gained many supporters because fluoridationists who lobbied their legislators lied about many things. But the most blatant lie was that Portland children need fluoride. According to government statistics, Portland children have less tooth decay than surrounding fluoridated areas.

    Residents, regardless of their position on fluoridation, wonder why these blatant lies

  • Marc Dengl

    this is ridiculous. adding toxic waste to water? come on.

  • ToothTruth

    Benjamin Disraeli once said to his colleagues in Parliment: “There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
    Your comment about “government statistics” reminds me of that quote. Living in Long Island, you wouldn’t understand that the statistics were for the Portland METROPOLITAN AREA, not just Portland. That would include fluoridated Beaverton (88,000), fluoridated Tualatin Valley Water District (180,000), fluoridated Boring/Damascus (15,000), and several affluent suburbs such as Lake Oswego (your buddy, Osmunson’s stomping grounds), West Linn, Tualatin, not to mention several affluent neighborhoods in Portland.
    This is an example of your consistent and blatant misuse of statistics.

  • fugio

    You’re one to talk! Let’s look at your own “blatant misuse” of government statistics: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/08/fluoride_group_secures_second.html

    When it was pointed out that the government’s best study (Brunelle and Carlos) found less than 1% difference in the number of healthy tooth surfaces (not decayed, missing or filled), you whined that WombatPDX2 “left out the most important part” of the study, Region VII. In that region, there was a 2% difference in healthy tooth surfaces, but you spun the data and said the “difference was 61%” to make it sound 30 times worse than it really was.

    And you left out an important finding. Even though Region III was America’s most fluoridated region, kids living in its fluoridated communities actually had a slightly higher rate of tooth decay than kids in that region’s non-fluoridated communities.

    And your attempt to make metro Portland sound fluoridated was sad. Truth Fairy, you should go back to Hood River, unless they’re ridden you out on a rail for being such an obnoxious and pernicious threat to people’s health.

  • ToothTruth

    I stand by my 61% difference in DMFTS. That is what Brunelle and Carlos stated in the article. It demonstrates the “Halo effect” of fluoridation. Yes, in highly fluoridated region III, there is a slightly higher DMFTS in the fluoridated areas, which would include the poorest of the poor of the inner city vs. the rural farmer, communities that have a higher socio-economic class of folks.
    You would have to be a dentist (which you are NOT) to understand that fluoridation is just one indicator to improved oral health for a community.

  • Fugio . .

    Wow, you actually looked at Table 9 in Brunelle and
    Carlos. I’ll give you that there isn’t too much to be gained by adding
    one more town to Region III. But in Region VII, which was then
    fluoridated to the same extent as Oregon is today, it is 1.42 vs 3.61
    (fluoridated compared to not). . . Indeed that calculates to 61% fewer

    . oh and we are talking about Portland, not Kentucky.

    is the Halo Effect at work. The problem with Table 9 is that it
    disaggregates the ages. Perhaps you read the famous “debate” between
    Connett and Howard Pollack in which Pollack charts the Brunelle and
    Carlos data of surfaces saved by age.

    There is a very impressive
    upward trend of surfaces saved. The data ends at age 17 at which point
    about 1.6 surfaces have been spared (I’m certain you know the average
    was 0.6)

    International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, VOL 11/NO 2, APR/JUN 2005, p 323

    the inclusion of 5 year olds, with nearly no permanent teeth, the
    average effectiveness in Region III understates the truth. . . and for
    that matter the 61% understates the effectiveness in 17 year old in
    Region VII.

    At least you have not been using the DMFT measurement
    which NYSCOF, Connett and Osmunson recently used in dissing Jay Kumar’s
    study which showed that teeth with fluorosis resist cavities.

    Yiamouyiannis, the antifluoridationist who believed that AIDS is not
    from a virus, was the first one to use Brunelle and Carlos to mislead
    the public in his infamous paper claiming there was not difference at
    all in cavities. I suppose that’s another story.

  • My apologies for misspelling Dr. Pollick’s name

  • fugio

    Could you please show where in the article Brunelle and Carlos stated a 61% difference in DMFTS? (include the URL)

  • MikeJames

    When people bother to read the science, they won’t have any doubt that water fluoridation is harmful to human health. It’s been proven. Look up water fluoridation chemicals: Sodium Hexafluorosilicate and Fluorosilicic Acid

  • MikeJames


  • MikeJames

    It’s a civil rights violation, and the public is waking up……No one has the right to force medicate anyone without informed consent. It’s been banned in most of Europe because it’s in violation of the Nuremberg Code. The first point being: “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him/her to make an understanding and enlightened decision.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Code

  • Kurt Ferre – you lead the fluoridation brigade in Portland and now you are posting as if you are an objective third party. No, you are a lobbyist giving one-sided, often false information, to legislators who trust you but shouldn’t

  • ToothTruth

    No, Carol, I’m not a lobbyist. I’m a retired dentist who cares about child, especially low-income children who also didn’t get to choose who their parents are or socio-economic class they born into.
    I do volunteer dentistry 2 days a week, and because I’m in the trenches, and have practiced in both a fluoridated and non-fluoridated community, I know that the science supports what I see.
    Reputable science will never convince you to change your mind. Your gods are Paul Connett, Paul Beeber, and your bible is the Fluoride Action Network. So be it.

  • Kurt , I’ve been involved before the Fluoride Action Network existed and before the internet – when Paul Connett was still brushing with fluoridated toothpaste. My “God” is truth and justice.

    I care very much about low-income children, also, who have to live in such dental pain because most dentists won’t treat them. I give you props for doing what 80% of dentists won’t do – actually treat the teeth of, and not just the water of, low income children.

    Low-income children desperately need dental care. Yet the American Dental Association will do all it can to outlaw an easy fix – to allow dental therapists to work in every state. Are you on board with that?

  • ToothTruth

    Dental therapists is a fix but not an easy fix. I have a dentist friend whose nephew was in the first class of DHT, and it’s reported that he’s doing great things in the Alaska bush. I have a dentist friend from New Zealand, who’s head of the public dental health dept. in Cantebury District (where Christchurch is located), and I’ve made a personal visit to two of his clinics, and I was impressed. The DHT model may work well in the U.S., and it’s been implemented in Minnesota. Let’s see the impact it makes. If there are results, the DHT model will spread to other states, but not overnight.
    That said, your using the DHT issue as an argument against fluoridation is a smoke screen. You’ve been against fluoridation long before the DHT. If the DHT model becomes widespread, you’ll still be opposed to fluoridation, and you will have 50 more reasons to oppose to it.
    Yet, let’s prevent oral disease in every possible way. Fluoridation is a 20th Century adaptation of a naturally occurring process.
    In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need safety-net dental clinics and fluoridation. We don’t live in that world.