Editorial: Voters should be given chance to fluoridate water

Now that the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority board has inexplicably voted to ignore 70 years of scientific research on the benefits of fluoridating public water systems, as a fallback, we have to agree with board member and City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who told fellow board members this important public health issue “should not be left up to the six of us.”

On a 4-2 vote Wednesday, the board stripped $250,000 from its $212 million budget that would have paid for the installation of equipment to fluoridate the municipal water supply, once again depriving more than 658,000 residents of the proven benefits of fluoridation on dental health.

Until 2011, when the water utility unilaterally terminated the practice, fluoride had been added to Albuquerque’s water supply, which typically contains about 0.4 parts per million of naturally occurring fluoride. In 2014, the board considered resuming the practice, but decided instead to revisit the issue once the Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations for optimal fluoride levels in water. Since then, the CDC, which lists community water fluoridation among the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, set its recommendation at 0.7 parts per million.

There’s really not much debate among mainstream medical organizations about the benefits of fluoridating public water supplies – though the board heard arguments to the contrary by people like local health activist Don Schrader, who publicly proclaims the benefits he receives from drinking his own urine.

Seventy years of research and practical experience has consistently shown fluoridation of community water to be safe and effective. Fluoride has proven to be extremely effective at reducing the presence and progress of tooth decay in people of all ages. And a CDC study shows that every $1 invested in water fluoridation yields $38 savings in dental treatment costs.

The practice is endorsed by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Dental Association, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, American Cancer Society, Health Action New Mexico, N.M. Department of Health’s Office of Oral Health and more than 100 other professional groups.

Regardless, board chairwoman and City Councilor Trudy Jones, city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz and Sanchez voted against fluoridation.

Only County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins and City Councilor Pat Davis voted for it.

While Sanchez is trying to be on both sides of the political issue, at this point his suggestion to let voters weigh in is the best one. The public is likely to do a better job of separating fact from fear-mongering.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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