The fluoride controversy took the main stage at the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night and after an hour and half of testimony and debate, the Assembly backed the status quo: fluoride in the water supply.
The resolution, approved on a 9-2 vote, urges fluoride foes who want to keep up the fight to seek a citywide advisory vote. Two dozen people testified, more against fluoride than for it.
Critics of fluoride in drinking water have been pushing the Assembly to stop the practice, as was done in Juneau, Fairbanks and Palmer. For years, they've been speaking at the end of Assembly meetings during the public comment time. They call it forced medication. They say fluoride is a poison. They blame it for illnesses.
But health advocates said the science doesn't support the claims of danger from fluoride. In fact, it has done immense good by preventing tooth decay at a cost of just 33 cents an Anchorage resident per year, said Terry Tauschek, a dentist who serves on the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility board.
Water systems in the United States have added fluoride for more than 65 years, said Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist. And in Anchorage, fluoridation goes back to 1953, Tauschek said.
"Hundreds of studies have looked for adverse health effects of water fluoridation on the public's health and no adverse health effects have been demonstrated, including for increased risk of cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis, bone fractures, mood disorders, low intelligence ... ," McLaughlin said. "And the list goes on."
Around the country, communities are deciding to add fluoride, not stop it, he said. "The Alaska trend is going the wrong way."
One study found that children in rural Alaska villages that don't fluoridate the water have three time more cavities than those in villages with fluoride, according to Tom Hennessy, a physician and director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Arctic investigations program.
Assemblyman Patrick Flynn said he proposed the resolution to show the fluoride opponents where the body stands.
"The Anchorage Assembly has considered the available information and supports continued fluoride use by the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility," the resolution said.
Supporting it were Flynn, co-sponsors Adam Trombley and Chris Birch, Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall and members Amy Demboski, Jennifer Johnston, Bill Starr, Tim Steele and Dick Traini. Opposing it were Paul Honeman, whose public safety committee has been working on the issue and is close to crafting its own proposal, and Elvi Gray-Jackson, who said she didn't support a vote based on members personal opinions.
The fluoride critics were unhappy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports fluoride in drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets limits on the safe amount, and the Anchorage system is at the low end of what can be added.
None of that persuaded critics.
"How many times have government agencies deemed products safe over the years" only for them later to be found unsafe? asked Greg Hollstein. Just look at all the television ads with lawyers seeking clients to sue over flawed products, he said.
If fluoride is so great for teeth, why not "keep adding chemicals for our hearts, our brains, our bones," he said.
Kim Houston told the Assembly she had a lot to say and hoped the members could keep up. At one point, she read the label from a tube of toothpaste that advised getting medical help or contacting a poison control center if too much was swallowed.
She promised to work to unseat Assembly members who support fluoride and drew scattered applause.
If the public votes on the matter, it should be binding, not advisory, fluoride critic and human rights activist Daryl Lanzon said.
Lanzon, one of the leaders of the movement, said Honeman's desire to more thoroughly probe the issue was reassuring but otherwise he was displeased.
Flynn said the Assembly got legal advice that the public couldn't outlaw fluoride by voter initiative because it was an administrative matter.
Hall, the chairman, ruled that the end-of-meeting public comment couldn't be on the same topic already dealt with during the regular agenda. Some on the Assembly tried to overturn that but didn't have the eight votes needed. Still people kept testifying against fluoride, even after the resolution passed.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.