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City council grinds teeth over fluoride

What 589 Glenwood Springs residents decided in 1985, six City Council members aren’t about to second-guess 20 years later.

Council voted 6-1 Thursday night to continue having the city fluoridate its water. The decision followed a debate between residents who objected to having to drink what they consider to be an unhealthy substance and dentists who defended its use as an additive to help prevent tooth decay.

Several council members voiced reservations Thursday about reversing a course set by voters when they decided 589-438 in a 1985 special election to begin fluoridating water.



“I think we were directed by the voters to do something and it’s up to the voters to tell us to change that,” council member Bruce Christensen said.

Said council member Larry Beckwith, “Let the arguments be made to the public and let the public decide.”



Their comments seemed to suggest that if residents want the issue reconsidered, they would have to conduct a petition drive and seek to have an initiative placed on the ballot.

Steve Campbell, who along with Joan Troth had asked council to discuss the fluoride issue, said he isn’t sure if he would pursue an initiative, but council’s decision may leave him with little choice.

“If that’s our best option, I guess that’s the way we have to go,” he said. “We’re definitely going to pursue this issue. Where it leads, I don’t know.”

Troth wasn’t available for comment. Her husband, Lyle, said she probably would not pursue a ballot initiative, but would leave that up to others if they so choose.

Council member Dan Richardson voted in the minority Thursday night. He had wanted the city to form a task force on fluoridation.

Campbell said he thought the task force would have been a good way for the city to look into the issue more closely.

He said it didn’t appear many council members had read the materials he provided back in July on the possible health impacts of fluoridation.

Christensen said he doesn’t think council members have the technical ability to interpret the available data on the subject.

“We don’t have the information to make a decision on this,” he said.

But Campbell believes it would have been better for council to consider the issue than for the public to decide.

“The population at large is so susceptible to manipulation in their thinking and it’s going to very hard to persuade them,” he said.

Rod Savoye, who also spoke out against fluoridation Thursday night, agreed.

“The belief that fluoride is a cure-all for teeth decay is deeply embedded in the public consciousness. I don’t think a referendum would go anywhere,” he said.

Joan Troth contends research has linked fluoride to arthritis, hip fractures, thyroid disease, genetic damage and bone cancer. She said Thursday night that a sizable group of Glenwood residents “don’t want to be medicated by the city.”

She said Telluride and Aspen have ended their fluoridation programs.

In an interview, Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said that city considered doing away with its program perhaps eight or 10 months ago, but out of a desire to save money, and not because of health concerns. He said Rifle’s City Council decided to continue the program after hearing from dentists and other health care providers who said it was beneficial.

“It wasn’t a huge issue. It didn’t garner huge public debate,” Lambert said.

Three area dentists spoke in favor of Glenwood’s fluoridation program Thursday night. Dr. James Setterberg, a past president of the Colorado Dental Association, said the program benefits people of all income levels. He also warned council that fluoridation can be the target of “a lot of emotional campaigning” by opponents.

Dr. Jay Heim told council, “What I would encourage you to do is look at the research, look at the cold, hard facts.”

He said Fort Collins residents just voted on fluoridation, approving it by a 2-1 margin.

Savoye said he wishes Glenwood council members had shown leadership on the fluoridation issue, but added that there’s no way they would reverse a public vote.

“They would have been politically pilloried,” he said.

“They obviously don’t have enough information to be able to support an argument at this point,” he said. “When Columbus discovered America it took 100 years before people generally believed the earth was round. It may take 100 years for people to realize fluoride is a problem.”


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