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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 29, 2004

Council vote bans fluoride in water

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

The City Council yesterday ended the debate over whether O'ahu's water supply should be fluoridated, voting 7-2 to ban the cavity-fighting chemical.

Two dozen residents who supported the ban applauded the decision in the council chamber, while medical and dental professionals were disappointed.

"There's nothing wrong with our water. It's great. Let's keep it that way," said Hesh Goldstein, a community member who opposes fluoridation.

Honolulu is one of four cities among the nation's 50 largest cities to not have fluoridated water, according to the National Center for Fluoridation Policy and Research.

The bill bans the addition of fluoride and other chemicals to O'ahu's drinking water, except for substances needed to keep the water supply safe.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply adds small amounts of chlorine to disinfect water from certain sources, spokeswoman Tracy Burgo said. The board adds 0.05 to 0.1 milligrams of chlorine per liter of water; by the time it comes out of the tap, it is no more than 0.05 milligrams per liter, Burgo said. Not all water is chlorinated.

Since there is no fluoridation bill under consideration at the state level, some health professionals urged the council to think longer before ending a debate that has spanned some 50 years.

"Voting no today does not mean tomorrow the water will be fluoridated," said Stacy Evenson of the Hawaii Medical Service Association, which opposed the bill.

Councilmen Charles Djou and Nestor Garcia voted against the fluoride ban, citing concerns by dentists and doctors.

However, the other seven council members were persuaded by residents who argued that fluoride could cause negative health effects and would affect water quality. Doris Dalldorf said that when she lived in Fresno, Calif., the fluoridated water "tasted like chlorine and worse."

Some fluoridation opponents pointed out that they object only to the chemical being added to drinking water, not to its use overall, such as in toothpaste or via prescription. "We're not saying fluoride does not prevent tooth decay," said resident Carol Lent. "We would just like the opportunity to apply it ourselves."

April Cockrell said nobody knows what kind of effect fluoride will have in the long term. Money that would be spent to add fluoride to the water supply would be better spent by subsidizing dental care or educating children about dental hygiene, Cockrell said.

Representatives from the Hawaii Dental Association, HMSA, the Dental Division of the state Department of Health, and the Academy of Pediatrics unsuccessfully tried to convince the council to keep its options open.

They pointed out there have been no proven health risks and great benefits. They argued that Honolulu should consider fluoridation as a passive method of preventing dental decay. Evensen called it "one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century."

But Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said the debate over fluoridation has been going on for decades. She pointed out that previously approved drugs, such as Thalidomide, have turned out to have very negative effects. "We need to rely on experts, but sometimes we also need to use common sense," she said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.