Water authority board members killed a move to resume fluoridation of the municipal water supply to prevent tooth decay by voting 4-2 to cut funding for the program from the water utility’s 2017 fiscal year budget.
The $212 million budget, which the board approved during its Wednesday’s meeting, had included $250,000 for the installation of fluoridation equipment at the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Plant. But City Councilor Trudy Jones, the board chairwoman, introduced an amendment that eliminated that money.
Board members voting in favor of Jones’ amendment and against fluoridation were city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz and City Councilor Ken Sanchez.
Voting against the amendment and in favor of fluoridation were County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins and City Councilor Pat Davis.
Adding fluoride to water supplies for the purpose of preventing tooth decay dates back 70 years in the United States and has been championed by public health officials as among the most dependable ways of enhancing the oral health of entire communities. Opponents, however, say the practice does little to prevent tooth decay, causes health problems and is a violation of individual rights.
Up until 2011, when the water utility terminated the practice, fluoride was added to the Albuquerque municipal water supply. Fluoride does occur naturally in water, and even without supplementation the Albuquerque municipal water supply averages fluoride levels of 0.4 parts per million.
In 2014, the water authority board considered resuming the addition of fluoride to increase levels but agreed instead to take up the issue once the Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations for optimal fluoride levels in water. The CDC has since issued a recommendation of levels of 0.7 parts per million, setting the stage for Wednesday’s vote.
The board’s action followed often-passionate public comment by 17 people, 10 opposed to adding fluoride to the metro area’s drinking water and seven in support of it.
“Are you sure fluoride has no unintended consequences?” Don Schrader, Albuquerque activist and fluoride opponent, asked the board. “Are you sure fluoridation causes no long-term harmful consequences? If you vote to fluoridate, will you someday live to find out you were deceived?”
Joe Martinez, representing Health Action New Mexico, which advocates access to health and dental care for all people, spoke in favor of fluoridation, telling the board he had the signatures of 143 people from all sections of Bernalillo County who saw the value of fluoridation for the community and their children.
Hart Stebbins said she supported resumption of fluoridation because dentists had told her they were beginning to see the detrimental effects of discontinuing the program five years ago. She said she believes fluoridation is important to the poor, the elderly and members of ethnic minorities who do not have access to good health and dental care.
But Perry said he opposed fluoridation because he sees it as an ethics issue.
“Don’t people have the right to not take medical advice if they don’t want to?” Perry said. “As a government official, it’s difficult for me to foist this on people.”
Sanchez said he believes the issue should be voted on by the people of the community.
“This is a complex issue, and I hope it does not die here tonight,” Sanchez said. “But it should not be left up to the six of us.”