There seems no middle ground on the issue of Juneau's fluoridation.
The Juneau Fluoride Study Commission invited six professionals to sit on a panel at its public hearing Thursday. The panelists' expertise ranges from pediatrics to public health to dentistry. Three of the experts supported fluoridation; two opposed it; one remained neutral.
The commission was tasked with recommending whether to continue public water fluoridation by last month, but it has extended the deadline until February.
The neutral panelist is Juneau Public Works Director Joe Buck. He was at the meeting to testify about how the city administers and monitors fluoride in drinking water.
Fluoridation has polarized the community since Public Works turned off fluoride without notice in June 2003 to study the copper level in drinking water. Although the city resumed fluoridation in March, the act rekindled a decades-old debate.
Mayor Bruce Botelho appointed the commission, and it has been meeting since July. Meeting the panelists on both sides provided the commissioners with different perspectives before the commission makes its final recommendation to the Assembly in February.
Patrick Neary, a naturopathic doctor, opposes fluoridation. He associated fluoride with cancer, hip fractures and many other diseases.
"Fluoride is a toxic chemical," said Neary, who was an environmental engineer in medical facilities for 12 years. "We don't need to put it in the water."
Neary said if dentists and government officials are concerned about tooth decay, they should treat the cause and discourage people from drinking sugar water. "Giving people fluoride isn't the answer," he said.
Larry Buzzell, a panelist, said whether to fluoridate one's drinking water is an individual right.
"Why does the (city) put a drug in my drinking water when it needs a doctor's prescription to get fluoride?" Buzzell asked.
Brad Whistler, dental officer of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, supports fluoridation. He argues that there is little scientific evidence to support that fluoridation is harmful.
"Fluoride doesn't cause cancer," Whistler said. "It is a benefit to the community."
Kate Slotnick, a nurse manager of Juneau Public Health Center, said fluoridation is key to the oral health of the community, especially to children from low-income families.
Right now, the city puts 0.7 to 1.2 parts fluoride per million parts water, the dosage recommended by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Doug Weaver, a dentist in Juneau since 1978, suggested that the commission postpone its recommendation until the National Academy of Sciences releases a report on the health risk of fluoride.
"A meta-analysis is a way to take in all the information and draw a conclusion," Weaver said. "The Academy of Sciences is doing a meta-analysis now. It will be a comprehensive and objective analysis of the health risks of fluoride. I think the community and the commission should wait."
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.