BROOKSVILLE — Call it fluoridation debate, redux.
The long-standing question of whether Brooksville should return to the practice of adding the tooth decay-fighting chemical to its water supply will return front and center before the City Council during a workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The issue, which has strong advocates on both sides, last came up in March, when council member Frankie Burnett stated to council members that he welcomed bringing in dental health experts as early as possible to present their views before the five-member governing body. All agreed with Burnett, except Mayor Lara Bradburn, a staunch opponent of fluoridation, who thought it more appropriate to discuss the matter during the summer budget season.
In the past, Bradburn has been vocal about her objection to fluoride, and in 2008 led the charge to end the city's 23-year practice of adding the chemical to its water. In the end, council members narrowly supported keeping the program.
However, two years ago, in an effort to shave costs during the 2011 budget hearings, Bradburn successfully lobbied her four colleagues to eliminate the city's fluoridation program, which cost about $6,000 annually. Since then, the Hernando County Health Department has stepped up its effort to try to persuade council members to reinstate the program.
County health education program manager Ann-Gayl Ellis said that a host of dental experts will be on hand at Tuesday's workshop to speak about the benefits of fluoridation, including Hernando County Health Department dental program manager Teresa Keenan; the county's senior dentist, Dr. Pedro Lense; Dr. Scott Tomar, a professor in the department of community dentistry and behavioral science at the University of Florida; and Palm Harbor pediatric dentist Johnny Johnson.
Keenan said that studies have repeatedly shown that adding fluoride to drinking water reduces cavities by 25 percent and is particularly beneficial to children and those in the community who may not have regular access to dental care.
"Fluoridation can fill in an important health gap in our community," Keenan said. "The (Brooksville) program did a lot of good for people who don't have the means to pay for regular dental care."
Fluoridation became an official policy of the U.S. Public Health Service during the early 1950s and was adopted by hundreds of municipalities eager to provide its benefits to residents. Presently, about 73 percent of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water. However, the increasing availability of over-the-counter fluoride treatments caused the Environmental Protection Agency a few years back to reduce by nearly half the amount of fluoride it recommends for public water supplies.
Bradburn maintains that some scientific studies have shown fluoride may cause serious health problems, and for that reason shouldn't be added to public water supplies. "We've made it a policy statement, not a science statement," Bradburn said. "And I just don't think it's right for a governmental body to make those kinds of choices."
Bradburn, who will once again speak on behalf of non-fluoridation, said that many people she has spoken with share her belief, but they are reluctant to speak in public for fear of intimidation.
"I hope they will be there Tuesday to add their voices to mine," she said.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.