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Passions Run High In Fluoridation Debate

Hundreds of people turned out for a Portland City Council work session on fluoride.

Hundreds of people turned out for a Portland City Council work session on fluoride.

April Baer/OPB

Hundreds of people turned out for a Portland City Council work session today. Council is considering a plan to fluoridate the city’s water supply. April Baer was there, and discussed the issue with OPB’s Gretchen Kilby.

GK: April, sounds like quite the crowd.

AB: More people signed up in opposition than in support, but it was reasonably close. Mayor Sam Adams took pains to warn the crowd he would not tolerate audible expressions of support or opposition. No clapping, no boos. But it’s a measure of this debate’s intensity that his rules were broken a mere eight minutes into the session. Commissioner Randy Leonard was talking about why he feels fluoridation is an important step protecting the health of kids throughout the region.

Randy Leonard: We talk about equity in this community, and the people that suffer the most from not having fluoridated systems are kids, and particularly kids of color, and poor kids, and it has to stop. It’s about protecting their lives, preparing them for the future, and making sure they have we very advantage possible that a modern society can offer to children to succeed.

(outburst, off mic)

Sam Adams: OK, You’re out, you’re out, you’re out. Sorry, you’re going to be removed….

AB: You can’t hear it on the tape, but the woman who cried out was making an analogy to vaccination. It is, she said, a parent’s right to decide whether their kids should get vaccinated, and likewise, whether their kids should get fluoride.

Much of what’s happened so far is expert testimony in support of fluoridation…. 

OHSU pediatrics, dental, and public health programs, 

Kaiser Permanente

, PEW Health Group

 — they shared a variety of perspectives, extolling the crisis in dental health, the safety of fluoridation.

 Dr Philip Wu, dentist from Kaiser, made the comment that anything you put in your mouth and swallow can, potentially, be toxic under the right circumstances.

A majority of the people who signed up to testify came to oppose. 

One of the first was Angel Lambert, who had a toddling daughter on her lap. Lambart says she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder. She talked about the problems she’d faced, and her concerns that fluoride in the water could aggravate her condition. 

Angel Lambart: I have a toddler. And if my thyroid problem gets worse again, how am I supposed to take care of my daughter? There’s people that are allergic to fluoride. There’s people like myself who are very sensitive to chemicals. If there’s a problem with kids’ dental health, why don’t’ we put the money toward better nutrition?

AB: This just scratches the surface of the objections that have been brought up. Some opponents dispute the science that shows fluoride is safe. Others object to adding something to the water they consider an industrial product. 

Dangerous to generalize, but you might say opponents have a skepticism for the health benefits outweighing the risks. 

And if fluoride IS important, why, Angel Lambart asked, doesn’t city council put this to a vote of the people.

GK: April, is that going to happen?

AB: It seems likely. Council votes next week, but petition language has been submitted with the city auditor’s office. We’re waiting to see if ballot title language is approved. Commissioner Nick Fish alluded to the fact that Council would almost certainly not get the last word.

GK: Thanks, April 

AB: You’re welcome. 


GL: Thanks, April


AB: You’re welcome.


GL: OPB’s April Baer.

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