Snowmass water board nixes fluoride

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

With no members of the public present other than two dental professionals and a journalist, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District board of directors voted Friday to stop fluoridating its drinking water.

The board began reconsidering its practice in May after the federal government revised its recommendations regarding public water fluoridation. Snowmass already followed the new standards, but the announcement sparked a debate that continued for three board meetings.

Friday’s meeting began with public comment from Ward Johnson, a Snowmass Village resident who practices dentistry in Aspen.

“Being a dentist in Aspen since 1992, of course I am in favor of continuing the fluoridation in the water,” Johnson said, citing a reduction in the rate of cavities in areas of the valley that have fluoridated drinking water. “In my opinion, the only thing that has changed is we have toothpaste with fluoride now. Without systemically ingesting that fluoride … you do not get the lifetime of benefit that you get when fluoride is in your enamel.”

A report prepared by Glenwood Springs-based engineering company SGM agreed with Johnson’s statement on the dental health benefits of fluoridation but noted that ingesting too much has proven negative health consequences and that research is limited on other potential impacts.

“Only recently have the studies been done on the effects of fluoride beyond your teeth,” said board member Dave Dawson on Friday. “People can fluoridate if they wish. I don’t see it as our business to medicate the public.”

Board members Michael Shore and Willard Humphrey said they agreed with Dawson’s position, but board president Joe Farrell, who said he has many dentists in his family, did not.

Farrell added that the board should consider arranging a meeting with the Town Council or doing more public outreach before making its decision. Kit Hamby, district manager, said that his staff had counted members of the public who had been at the past two meetings, and that the number in favor of fluoridation was twice that of those against.

Cristina Gair, of the Aspen to Parachute Dental Health Alliance, stood in favor of fluoridation and agreed with Farrell.

“If it is going to go for a vote, which that is your right, you should have that on the agenda,” Gair said. “I don’t think it’s widely known that this is occurring. You’re really making a decision for your constituents, and I think you need their input.”

This month’s board meeting was rescheduled from Wednesday to Friday. The new meeting time was posted at the Snowmass Center and at Snowmass Village Town Hall, Hamby said, as well as on the district’s website.

The board voted 3-1 on a motion to discontinue fluoridation. Tim Belinski was absent from the meeting. Hamby said that district staff will immediately stop adding fluoride to its water.

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