An Anchorage ballot initiative effort aimed at removing fluoride from city water has two rather unusual political bedfellows supporting it: the Democratic incoming majority leader of the Alaska House and a conservative perennial local candidate who has never held public office.
Rep. Chris Tuck is listed as a co-sponsor of the initiative, which is gathering signatures to be placed on the April city ballot. The primary sponsor is Dustin Darden, a carpenter who, in runs for mayor and legislator, has used homemade wooden signs usually bearing anti-fluoride messages.
Newly elected independent Rep. Jason Grenn also signed the petition. But Grenn said he only signed it because he believes in direct democracy. He said he doesn't actually support removing fluoride from city water and trusts government assurances that it isn't harmful.
In Anchorage, bitter fights over fluoride have cropped up occasionally since the city started fluoridating its water in 1953. Before the possible battle shaping up for 2017, the most recent fight was in 2013, when the Anchorage Assembly re-authorized fluoridation. A ballot initiative has never made it past the signature-gathering phase.
Opponents call fluoride toxic and say it's forced medication; supporters say it's a safe, effective and cheap way to combat tooth decay. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services all support the use of fluoride in public drinking water to help reduce cavities.
Anchorage water treatment officials say the city uses less than the federal recommendation: 0.7 milligrams per liter, or the equivalent of half an aspirin dissolved in a bathtub of water.
Other Alaska communities, including Fairbanks, Juneau and Palmer, have stopped fluoridating city water in the past decade, in part because the tooth-protecting chemical is widely added to toothpaste and fluoride rinses. Saturday, Dec. 24, is the 20th anniversary of the death of the chemist, Joseph Muhler, credited with first introducing fluoride into toothpaste — Procter and Gamble's Crest in 1955.
Tuck said he's been a longtime opponent of water fluoridation and believes it has adverse health effects. He has a reverse-osmosis system in his home to remove fluoride from the public drinking supply and also uses bottled water, he said. For many years, he said, he got water from the pipe sticking out of the cliff on Turnagain Arm, near Beluga Point.
"I would rather it be a choice, rather than something that's automatically added into the water supply," Tuck said.
David Logan, a retired Juneau dentist who serves as executive director of the Alaska Dental Society, said community water fluoridation has been shown to be safe, cheap and effective way to improve oral health.
"We're for public health and we deal in facts, not in conjectures, and not in emotions," Logan said. "For us, it's a very clear-cut issue."
A second ballot initiative, also co-sponsored by Darden and Tuck, would require the manufacturer of the fluoride used by the city to provide the public with "an accurate list of contaminants and their amounts for each batch." The initiative also seeks a detailed toxicology report and a "written verification of the chemical's safety for ingestion by all water customers."