Fluoridation of city water still up in the air

Commission remains split on benefits and drawbacks of continuing treatment

Posted: Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Fluoride Study Commission's presentation to city leaders Monday night didn't bring them any closer to deciding whether to continue adding the controversial substance to the city's water supply.

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The six-person commission is split down the middle on whether to continue fluoridating city water, which makes the Juneau Assembly's decision on the issue that much more difficult. Commissioners presented their case to the Committee of the Whole, which consists of Juneau Assembly members who ultimately will decide whether the city should continue fluoridation.

Committee of the Whole Chairman Randy Wanamaker said the body had no intention of making a policy decision Monday night, but said the commission's division over the issue will spur a thorough discussion by the Assembly.

"There's no clear, bright line for us," he said. "It's a policy call - a judgment call - based on our interpretation and the evidence presented from a variety of technical bodies."

Assembly member Jeff Bush said he had hoped the commission, which was established in June 2004 to make a recommendation to policymakers, would have helped steer the ship in one direction or the other.

"Having a split-decision like this, we really don't have a recommendation we can start with," he said.

Commissioner Jamie Bursell, who opposes fluoride in city water, said the current level of fluoridation could be harmful to infants and people with certain internal-organ conditions.

"The amount of fluoride that is going into the drinking water, I think, is very difficult to regulate for each individual," she said.

The city adds 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams of fluoride to the water system.

Commissioner Ron Hansen, an engineer with nearly 40 years experience in water system management, said the benefits of adding fluoride to the water supply far outweigh the risks because of fluoride's ability to fight tooth decay.

"The people who would probably miss out by not fluoridating the water system are children in poor economic situations," he said.

Commission Chairman Bart Rozell recommended the Assembly discontinue the addition of fluoride to city water until further information is discovered on the issue. He said the commission looked at hundreds of reports, some credible and some not.

"The evidence isn't there to support the claim that fluoridation is clearly safe and clearly effective," he said.

Wanamaker said he thinks Rozell's point should be considered.

"His reasoned analysis of the available technical information and the lack of supporting evidence for the (ethical use of) fluoridation and the potential health problems has to be taken seriously," he said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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