A years-long push by activists to stop adding fluoride to Anchorage's water supply is finally getting a response from the Anchorage Assembly.
But it's not the answer fluoride critics wanted.
The measure proposed by Assembly member Patrick Flynn says the Assembly "supports continued fluoride use" and if opponents want to press the issue, they can seek a public advisory vote. It also acknowledges the long-running community debate and says the Assembly has considered both sides. But it doesn't list specific findings.
The resolution originally had been set for quick approval as a routine matter Aug. 20, but after Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson pushed for a community debate, it was shifted to a public hearing Tuesday night.
"There's a small group of people who are pretty committed to removing fluoride from our water system," Flynn said. "They show up at Assembly meetings and speak during the public participation time at the end of the agenda."
Both Gray-Jackson and Assembly member Tim Steele said in August they had concerns that the proposal may be a means to curb the public testimony. Not so, Flynn and other backers said.
One of the leading anti-fluoride activists, Jason Agre, has been speaking out for more than three years, and a number have been coming to city meetings for better than a year. They were frustrated the Assembly hadn't acted, Flynn said, so he crafted the resolution to tell the public where the Assembly stood. Assembly members Adam Trombley and Chris Birch are co-sponsoring the resolution.
The issue of fluoride being added to municipal water has been hotly debated around the country. In Juneau, the Assembly in 2006 decided to stop fluoride, a move punctuated the next year by a citywide vote for a ban. In 2011, Fairbanks and Palmer city councils decided to end fluoridation of the drinking water. In May, Portland, Ore., voters overwhelmingly rejected fluoridation despite support from health advocates, the mayor and city commissioners.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lauded fluoridation of drinking water as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements in the last century. The American Dental Association says it's a safe and necessary way to prevent tooth decay.
City law requiring the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility to add fluoride to the drinking water was enacted in 1990.
"As a product of Anchorage who grew up drinking AWWU water, I'd like to think I'm a reasonably good example that it doesn't do too much damage," Flynn said.
Daryl Lanzon, an Anchorage resident who calls himself an activist for human rights, is perhaps the most persistent of the local fluoride critics, said Flynn and Trombley.
He says fluoride use is a medical matter that the city shouldn't decide for residents.
Flynn's resolution raises new questions and doesn't examine the science of fluoride, Lanzon said. He was pushing for a task force, like the ones set up in Fairbanks and Juneau before those cities banned fluoride in drinking water.
"What I am seeking, or what we are seeking as an organization if you want to loosely call us that, is due diligence," Lanzon said. "Have we seen any research, have we seen any toxicology studies on sodium fluorosilicate, which is what they are using in the water supply?"
The Assembly's public safety committee has been studying the issue, and is close to coming up with its own resolution that would including findings citing research and testimony, said its chair, Assembly member Paul Honeman. He said he was concerned that Flynn was pushing the issue now.
"We're taking on a very measured approach -- scientific, legal," Honeman said. "The municipal attorney was tasked to go out and find where the municipal or government or public water systems have been challenged around the country and how have the courts ruled."
In an Aug. 16 memorandum, assistant municipal attorney Todd Sherwood wrote to Honeman that the legal basis for fluoridation is well settled. He quoted a recent law article that said out of more than 100 legal challenges to fluoridation, no statute or local law had ever been struck down.
In 2010, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against backers of an initiative to stop fluoridation of the water in Port Angeles, determining that the matter was administrative and outside the scope of a voter initiative, the memo said.
That's why Flynn said his resolution urges residents opposed to fluoridation of drinking water to consider a ballot initiative that would be an advisory vote.
If the matter was put to a vote, and the public opposed fluoridation, the Assembly would need to act, Trombley said.
"It would be a mandate to do so," he said.
"We'd certainly take a closer look" Flynn said.
The recent city attorney memo also addresses questions Honeman raised about the controversy "based on inquires by concerned citizens." It referred to an analysis published in October 2012 in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, that examined 27 other studies and found indications that children's neuro-development could be harmed through high fluoride exposure.
In Anchorage, low levels of fluoride are added, Honeman said, though he has questions about the type of fluoride used.
"The fluoridation program, as we're administrating it, is fairly safe," he said.
Lanzon was surprised to learn about the new city attorney memo Monday from a reporter on an issue that he's pushing so hard.
"I'm emailing the Assembly, the mayor, the city manager, the attorneys, the police chief," Lanzon said.
As to Lanzon's call for a task force, Flynn said he would back that if it would settle the issue, but doubted it would.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER