By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sebastopol city officials, who oversee an independent municipal water system, are likely to take a stand Tuesday on a highly controversial county proposal to fluoridate the drinking water supply outside the city.
In so doing, they’d be following the lead of the Cotati City Council, which last fall submitted a letter to Sonoma County supervisors opposing the plan. Cotati officials said they favored expanding dental services and education for those at risk of tooth decay.
But while Cotati is among the nine contractors whose water supply would contain fluoride if county supervisors opted to pursue the plan, Sebastopol is not.
Some City Council members, however, say their constituents roam far and wide around Sonoma County to communities “where they would have no choice in their consumption of fluoride.”
Council members also expressed concern about the cost of removing fluoride from wastewater treated at the regional plant and the potential risk to wildlife in the Laguna de Santa Rosa should fluoride-tainted wastewater find its way there.
Fluoride may also seep into the groundwater that feeds Sebastopol’s wells, said Mayor Robert Jacob.
“We know that there’s conflicting science and conflicting opinions on fluoridation,” Jacob said. “But for us to add something that we don’t have definitive data that it is safe is a wrong measure.”
Councilmembers Michael Kyes and Sarah Glade Gurney, who serve on the council’s water subcommittee, recommended the city take a position against fluoridation.
“We’re just agreeing with Cotati’s decision that people should have a choice whether they have fluoride in their water or not,” Kyes said.
Sonoma County officials are contemplating adding fluoride to the public water supply to combat an epidemic of tooth decay, a practice that has the support of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, the World Health Organization and the American Dental Association, which called it “the single most effective public health measure to prevent dental decay.”
The Centers for Disease Control touts community water fluoridation as “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.” It says 75 percent of all American community water systems receive fluoride in their water.
It will be fall “at the soonest” before county supervisors consider following suit, thanks to ongoing financial and engineering studies authorized by the Board of Supervisors last year, Assistant County Health Director Tammy Moss Chandler said.
The county is preparing to award a contract for some aquatics studies based on Sonoma County waterways, though officials downplayed concerns about environmental pollution from fluoridated drinking water.
“The preponderance of evidence suggests that fluoridation will not endanger fish, wildlife or water supplies,” Chandler said.
The county project would have an estimated cost of $8.5 million, with annual upkeep of nearly $1 million, according to preliminary estimates released a year ago.
An impassioned network of opponents are resisting the plan, include some who contend that fluoride puts human health at risk.
“The question is,” said Jacob, “do you do something that’s unclear, or do you hold off to maintain the status quo and ensure current levels of safety?”