BROOKSVILLE — The addition of fluoride to the Hernando County water supply was rejected by four of five county commissioners Tuesday after they listened to nearly an hour of anti-fluoride arguments by residents.
Commissioner Diane Rowden made a motion to fluoridate the water supply for approximately 62,000 Utilities Department customers, a project that utilities officials said could cost $800,000 to initiate. But none of her colleagues would second the motion, so it died.
No other commissioner spoke up regarding their views on the issue.
At the end of the meeting, Rowden blasted commission Chairman Wayne Dukes and other commissioners for not allowing all of those who wanted to speak to air their views.
Dukes allowed people to talk about the issue during the regular citizens comment section of the meeting, but told them they would not then be allowed to speak again when the formal discussion of fluoride took place. Seventeen of the opponents decided to speak early.
They described health risks they believed to be associated with fluoride, ranging from a tooth condition called fluorosis to renal failure and bone problems. They called the substance poison and quoted various medical studies that attributed low intelligence to fluoridated water.
One spoke of how Adolf Hitler used fluoride to poison Jews in concentration camps and said that the leaders of Brooksville, which recently voted to restore fluoride to the city water supply, "should be arrested for crimes against humanity.''
Others spoke about how some countries refuse to fluoridate their water and how there are conflicting studies regarding whether the use of fluoride reduces tooth decay.
Later in the meeting, a presentation on the merits of fluoridation was made by pediatric dentist Johnny Johnson of Palm Harbor. Johnson, who has led efforts to fluoridate public water supplies in other Florida communities, talked about how serious tooth decay can be.
He maintained that fluoride in the water cuts tooth decay by 25 percent, and that while in a perfect world everyone would care for their and their children's teeth, "sadly, this is not a perfect world.''
Issue by issue, Johnson attempted to debunk the points made by the critics.
Fluoride, he said, "is safe. It's effective.''
He said that at the levels recommended for drinking water, stories about it being a danger to babies, or causing kidney or bone diseases or cancer, are false. He cited various studies, offered pro-fluoride quotes from a variety of experts and noted that other countries that do not fluoridate their water instead fluoridate salt and milk.
Spring Hill dentist Eva Ackley joined Johnson in supporting fluoridated water, noting that she has found in her 30 years in practice that older people who have kept their teeth tend to come from places where the water was fluoridated.
She noted she has a degree is chemistry and said that the key to a successful fluoridation program is to make sure that levels of the compound are maintained at the proper level in the water supply.
Dukes then asked members of the audience, most of whom had not yet spoken on the issue, to stand if they were in favor of fluoride. About 20 did, including representatives of the Hernando County Health Department, local dentists and a number of dental hygienist students. Then, Dukes asked for those who opposed fluoride, and got about the same number, although a number of those people had spoken earlier.
"The numbers here are pretty equal,'' he said, then decided to close public comment and turn the issue back to commissioners. He said he was concerned that, because a Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting was planned for 1:30 p.m. and could not be changed, allowing everyone to speak would require audience members to stay for several hours.
That upset Rowden.
"I've never seen anything like this,'' she said. "It almost seemed like it was planned.''
Earlier, when Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he wanted to limit Johnson's time to speak and didn't want to hear a lengthy presentation, Rowden turned to Nicholson and said, "It's your job.''
At the end of the meeting, she put a finer point on it. Each commissioner earns approximately $65,000 annually. That amounts to about $2,708 per meeting. As elected officials, she said, it was their job to hear what citizens have to say.
"It's our responsibility to listen to the people, whether we like it or not,'' she said.
"Do all my fellow officials feel duly chastised?'' Dukes responded. "Point taken.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.