Two Dallas city council members want more info after briefing supports fluoridating water supply
District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua is calling for a new presentation on the city’s water fluoridation program that is “less opinionated,” cites more data and is generally more factual.
That’s after a briefing and panel discussion with water utility directors, dentists and doctors at Monday's Quality of Life, Arts and Culture committee meeting.
Bazaldua chairs the committee. He says he appreciates the fluoridation briefing — but had some concerns about the panel’s information.
“I do think that it is somewhat tilted to one side versus another,” Bazaldua said. “Which I was trying to avoid.”
Bazaldua says he’s not looking for any particular outcome but says there is “no mistaking” what side of the discussion Monday’s panel members were on — and that he would have preferred a briefing that incorporated the other side of the fluoride debate.
District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon also said she wants another briefing with more information.
"I wanted another one with a different [point of view] plus understanding exactly what goes into our water," Blackmon told KERA.
Bazaldua said the presentation was one-sided, more information was needed and that he wasn't necessarily convinced on the need for the fluoridation program.
“I think it would be just as helpful to have opposition, get their opportunity to present and answer questions,” Bazaldua told KERA. “So that an informed decision can be made based on hearing subjective arguments from both sides.”
The panel was made up of Dallas Water Utilities Assistant Director Sarah Sandifer, local dentist and former president of the Dallas County Dental Society Mary Swift, American Fluoridation Society President Johnny Johnson, Dallas County Health Authority Director Philip Huang and county health expert Dr. Anh Nguyen.
Panelists said that the benefits of the “optimal” amount of fluoride include hardening teeth, protecting against tooth decay and cutting down on dental expenses — especially for historically underserved communities.
“Fluoride helps teeth in two ways, topically and systemically,” Swift said. “Please keep in mind that there are some parts of the community that a toothbrush is a luxury…but they do get water.”
City officials say that fluoride is naturally occurring in Dallas’ water supply but that chemicals are added to bring it up to what health experts say are recommended levels.
Fluoride is added into the city’s water treatment process as hydrofluorosilicic acid (HFS). According to department officials, HSF “dissociates in water to release” the fluoride ion.
But some council members say staff needs to take another look at the decades-old water policy.
“Unless there is a clear articulation of the need and its benefit, then I wonder if the investment is more for an industry and practice that is decades old,” Bazaldua said. “Or if it’s truly because it’s the best practice.”
District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon agreed and noted that dental practices have advanced in the decades since fluoridation was first recommended by health experts.
“Do we still use 1950s dental practices?” Blackmon said. “I think it’s a fair question for this council to ask is in 2023, is a practice that we had in 1950 still a fair practice."
Fluoridation has been a recommended policy since the early 1950s, according to the briefing. And Dallas has been adding fluoride to the water system for almost as long.
In 1965, the Dallas City Council passed a resolution that authorized the fluoridation of the city’s drinking water supply. A 1966 special election asked Dallas voters whether that practice should be unlawful — but that proposition failed.
According to the briefing on Monday, the city started adding fluoride to water treatment plants in August 1966.
Officials say that around 209 million people across the country have access to fluorinated water. But not all major cities have the same water policy.
Bazaldua asked the panel why only around 73% of U.S. water systems used fluoride. He also cited other major cities around Dallas’ size that do not fluoridate their water supply — like Tucson, Portland and San Jose.
Johnson, a pediatric dentist, says its still hard to reach smaller communities.
“The reasons that we are at about three quarters out of community water systems that are fluoridated in the U.S…because those represent the largest of the communities,” Johnson said. “Small communities are the ones that we need to increase in.”
Adding fluoride to city water systems has been a topic of controversy and conspiracy theories for decades. In the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, the fictitious General Jack Ripper even claimed fluoridation was a "monstrously conceived and dangerous" Communist plot.
Panel members said there are a lot of different narratives circulating about fluoridation still. Anywhere from negative health effects from exposure to high levels of fluoride, to the idea that ingestion of the additive leads to lower cognitive function.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of misinformation that is presented out there,” Huang said. “A lot of scare tactics.”
Here in Dallas, it is common for a handful of dedicated — and vocal — residents to show up to city hall and voice there concern over fluoride debate.
Linda Newland is a city hall regular and shows up to speak in opposition to fluoride, whenever the subject comes up during city council meetings.
"It's a poison. Y'all are poisoning the citizens, making us sick," Newland said during a late September city council meeting. "Stop spending the money!"
The committee directed staff to work on another briefing that would bring in a different opinion from Monday’s panel — possibly from those who oppose fluoridation all together.
The experts on the panel urged city officials to take into consideration key elements when finding data, studies and sources to speak to the other side of fluoridation.
“When you’re looking at those studies, please ask where the water source came from,” Swift said. “It’s super important because what we’re talking about is a very regulated controlled safe level, and you might see a study that takes a water sample…with a freakishly high level of fluoride.”
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