Consumers will have to wait another month to find out whether the water utility will resume supplemental fluoridation of Albuquerque’s drinking water.
After hearing passionate appeals from 32 speakers both for and against fluoridation, members of the utility board on Wednesday voted against taking up a funding measure for immediate action, postponing the decision until Sept. 20.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility board considered a proposed $260,000 capital appropriation that would pay for equipment needed to allow the city to resume supplemental fluoridation, which ended in 2011.
Under board rules, a new measure can’t be considered for immediate action unless five of the seven voting members agree. Only three members – Bernalillo County Commissioners Wayne Johnson and Maggie Hart Stebbins and City Councilor Pat Davis – voted to consider the measure Wednesday.
“I don’t believe we need to add more chemicals to our water,” board member and City Councilor Trudy Jones said after the meeting. “That’s medical engineering and that’s something we don’t have a right to do.”
Hart Stebbins said she doubts waiting another month will change anyone’s mind about the issue.
“It seems we have had a great deal of public comment over the last two years, particularly the last two months,” she said. Hart Stebbins said she supports fluoridation because her district includes the International District, where many low income people lack dental care.
Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in Albuquerque’s water supply at levels of about 0.5 milligram per liter, according to a report prepared by the utility staff.
The city began supplemental fluoridation in 1972, but ended the practice in 2011 while federal officials considered new recommendations about fluoridation levels.
In 2015, the U.S. Public Health Service updated the federal drinking water standards, recommending that community water systems add fluoride to 0.7 milligrams per liter to prevent tooth decay. That recommendation prompted the utility to reconsider fluoridation during budget discussions earlier this year.
The board’s anticlimactic vote Wednesday followed more than an hour of public comment that recalled many of the passionate opinions expressed at a June 21 meeting on the same issue. At least 70 people turned out Wednesday, and 32 signed up to speak.
Many who expressed support for fluoridation were dentists, dental hygienists and public health officials.
“Community water fluoridation is not dangerous, but rotten teeth are,” said H. Lynn
Carroll, public health director for the New Mexico Department of Health. Fluoridation has been shown to reduce the incidence of tooth decay by 25 percent in adults and children, he said.
“I can assure you that community water fluoridation is safe and effective” in preventing tooth decay, he said.
Opponents implicated fluoride in a wide variety of diseases, including diabetes, bone disease and cancer.
“I’m asking you not to medicate my water,” said Christopher Oglesby, a fluoridation opponent. “Let me take personal responsibility for my own health.”
Dr. Tom Schripsema, executive director of the New Mexico Dental Association, told board members that fluoridation is an inexpensive way of promoting public health.
“Preventing disease is the best way to solve our health care crisis that we have,” he said. “Fluoride is safe and effective at preventing disease.”