ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The public debate about drinking water fluoridation in Albuquerque appeared to have been settled in the 1970s, both at the ballot box and in the courts.
In a November 1970 election, a 57 percent majority of city voters supported an ordinance to fluoridate Albuquerque’s water supply. The city began fluoridation in 1972 after a state District Court judge dismissed a pair of lawsuit filed by opponents.
But after four decades of dormancy, the public debate about supplemental drinking-water fluoridation has fired up again in Albuquerque.
On Wednesday, members of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility board will consider a proposed $260,000 capital appropriation that would pay for equipment needed to allow the city to resume supplemental fluoridation, which ended in 2011.
Judging from the turnout at an earlier utility board meeting, Wednesday’s meeting is likely to offer a lively exchange between those who consider fluoridation a safe and effective way of improving public dental health, and those who oppose the practice for a wide variety of ethical and safety concerns.
Years of scientific research has shown that drinking water fluoridation is a safe and effective way of improving dental health, said Rudy Blea, the New Mexico Department of Health’s director of oral health.
“Water fluoridation is one of a number of practices that we believe reduces tooth decay both among children and adults,” Blea said in a phone interview. Fluoride in drinking water strengthens tooth enamel and fights bacteria that causes tooth decay, he said. “The fluoride encourages production of saliva, which provides natural protection against tooth decay.”
Representatives of the New Mexico Dental Association, Health Action New Mexico, and a variety of other public health groups voiced support for fluoridation at the June 21 board meeting.
But many of the 28 speakers at the meeting expressed opposition. Some contend that fluoride is a toxic chemical that can cause a wide range of health problems, from reduced intellectual abilities to Alzheimer’s disease. Others said the government has no business adding a mineral to the public water supply.
“The assertion that there is any benefit to adding fluoride to the water is simply not statistically valid,” said Mark Jurich, who cited World Health Organization data to support his contention that rates of tooth decay are no better in countries that fluoridate compared to those that do not.
In May, the board voted 3-2 to amend the utility’s operating budget, directing staff to initiate supplemental fluoridation and appropriating $270,000 to operate the system. In the following days, board chairwoman and Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña called for the June 21 meeting to give the public a chance to sound off about the issue.
On Wednesday, the board will consider a resolution that would appropriate money needed equip the water fluoridation system.
Utility board meeting
WHAT: The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority board will consider a resolution that would appropriate $260,000 to purchase equipment needed to resume drinking-water fluoridation.
WHEN: 5 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers, in the basement of One Civic Plaza Government Center.