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Fluoride Removal Can Wait

SANTA FE, N.M. — The sponsor of the proposal to stop adding fluoride to Santa Fe’s water supply has a new proposal — put off the plan for three years and concentrate on education and outreach to promote dental health in the meantime.

City Councilor Chris Calvert’s latest measure would align city water fluoride levels to the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for now.

After three years, the city would stop adding fluoride to city water.

Calvert plans to withdraw an ordinance currently wending through City Hall — and so far, favored by a majority of the City Council — to immediately stop putting fluoride in city water altogether, which has drawn fire from dentists and others.

“I think it’s actually a better solution. I think it will be more of a win-win, than one side wins, another loses. That’s the spirit of the compromise,” Calvert said.

Calvert said he plans to introduce the new ordinance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, when his prior measure was slated for a public hearing and vote.

Calvert said he decided to change course after conversations with city and state of New Mexico health officials.

Federal officials and others consider water fluoridation, which fights tooth decay, one of the great public health successes of all time. Calvert believes supplemental fluoridation is unnecessary and vocal fluoride opponents in Santa Fe and elsewhere maintain adding fluoride causes illness and other problems — a view not supported by the scientific consensus or the CDC.

In the works as part of Calvert’s new plan is a resolution calling for efforts by the city and the New Mexico Department of Health to implement a comprehensive public education and outreach program targeted at better dental health, promoting tooth care and dietary changes like less sugar.

“We’re basically coordinating with the (state) Office of Oral Health and that’s what they’re all about, education and outreach. They’re going to basically step up and expand on that and bring in all the public and private sector people they can to help them get that (message) out into the community,” Calvert said.

Calvert said he expects to see spillover on issues like childhood obesity. However, details on the education and outreach plans are still vague.

Calvert admitted that most of the heavy lifting will be done by the state. It’s still unclear what financial or other resources the city would commit, if any.

A message left Thursday with the program director of the Department of Health’s Oral Health Office was not returned.

“We’re sort of striking this deal, if you will, to continue with fluoridation of water with enough time to get them up and running with a better public health program,” Calvert said.

The Santa Fe City Council voted to stop adding fluoride to city water in July, at Calvert’s urging. However, the ordinance was rescinded after the city’s legal department advised the council that there wasn’t proper public notice before the council took the fluoride vote. The proposal on the council’s agenda before the July vote would only have rolled back city water fluoride levels to the latest recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The re-vote has been making its way through City Hall for the past month, and earned unanimous approval from the city’s Public Works Committee. Calvert withdrew the measure at the city’s Finance Committee meeting this week.

For decades, fluoride levels in Santa Fe have been set at a range of 0.80 to 1.20 parts per million, as suggested by the CDC.

New guidelines

The CDC is now changing its recommendation for fluoride from a range — of 0.70 to 1.20 parts per million — to a set level of 0.70 parts per million.

Most of the City Council supports the idea of stopping supplemental fluoride, although naturally occurring levels in the Santa Fe water supply range from only 0.20 ppm to 0.50 ppm. Several councilors have argued that Santa Fe’s naturally occurring fluoride levels are close enough to the new federal recommendation.

In July, Calvert was joined by Councilors Carmichael Dominguez, Patti Bushee, Chris Rivera, Bill Dimas and Ron Trujillo to stop fluoridation. Councilor Peter Ives voted against it, and nonvoting Mayor David Coss also expressed disapproval. Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger was absent.

Ives declined to say Thursday if would support the newest proposed ordinance, saying he wasn’t yet familiar enough with it. But he said giving people more time to consider and engage in the debate is a good thing.

“Fundamentally, my position still is that the CDC’s recommendation makes sense,” he said.

Calvert said fluoridation isn’t the only factor in resolving dental problems and expressed skepticism about most fluoride studies — “They can’t isolate for that variable (water fluoridation) and say that’s the only factor,” he said.

Even if there are benefits to fluoride, Calvert said, it’s just a Band-aid if people still have poor dietary and dental hygiene habits.

Calvert has also said that most fluoride is never ingested and ends up in the environment.

The city spends $34,000 to $36,000 a year supplementing the water supply with fluoride.