SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe County Commission’s vote Tuesday not to wade — for now — into the fluoride debate could throw a wrench into evolving city plans to stop supplementing local water with the mineral.
County commissioners approved a resolution instructing the county commissioners who sit on the Buckman Direct Diversion Board to refrain from voting on any proposal to remove supplemental fluoride from the joint city-county water system until the county has determined a position on the issue.
The resolution says the county “has not been consulted on the ongoing practice of placing supplemental fluoride compounds in the water supply” and “the city cannot dictate whether county residents continue to have supplemental fluoride added to their water supply.”
The “proper forum” for county officials to make a decision on fluoride is at a County Commission meeting, the resolution says.
It’s likely the Santa Fe City Council next month will approve an ordinance to stop adding fluoride to city water. A majority of the City Council is backing the measure.
Around 60 percent of city water customers get water from the Buckman system. All of the county’s customers are supplied from that source.
The Buckman is governed by a board of two city members, two county members and a community representative.
Commissioners Liz Stefanics, Kathy Holian and Virginia Vigil approved the resolution instructing county Buckman board members not to vote on fluoride. Commissioners Danny Mayfield and Robert Anaya weren’t present.
Stefanics and Holian sit on the Buckman board, while Mayfield serves as an alternate.
Stefanics said Tuesday the Buckman board was initially scheduled to vote Thursday on an ordinance to stop supplementing the water with fluoride.
That didn’t check out legally — the Buckman board can’t enact ordinances, Stefanics said — so the agenda topic “was changed for us to support the city of Santa Fe removing fluoride from water,” she said.
County officials should thoroughly vet the issue before taking a position, Stefanics said.
Holian and Vigil agreed. Holian said public fluoridation is “very complex” and that while she recognizes “there could be health problems associated with it,” she hasn’t studied the issue and doesn’t feel ready to make a decision.
Stefanics said she is concerned “that it would be a rather backward step to remove fluoride from water when the federal government is indicating its support for it.”
The Santa Fe City Council voted to eliminate supplemental fluoride earlier this summer but rescinded the decision after legal staff said proper notice wasn’t given for the vote.
Councilor Chris Calvert introduced another ordinance to eliminate supplemental fluoride, but later pulled it in favor of a measure directing the city to stop adding fluoride three years from now and focus on dental health education.
But now a majority of the council is sponsoring an alternative ordinance to immediately stop fluoridation.
Health agencies and many dentists say fluoridation has reduced dental disease and characterize it as one of the great public health successes of all time. Opponents say it’s not necessary and some argue it causes health problems.
The city’s water supply contains some naturally occurring fluoride, but not at levels the Centers for Disease Control suggests to promote dental health.