Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County Commission votes 6-1 to return fluoride to drinking water

CLEARWATER — Moderate. Sensible. Sober. That is how Pinellas County has preferred to think of its local government for decades. But many say that image cracked a year ago, when the commission voted to end fluoridation, making it the largest county in Florida to reject the practice, and drawing national ridicule.

One year later, the board has reversed the decision. On Tuesday, the Pinellas County Commission voted to begin fluoridating its drinking water again.

The switch, which will cost the county about $185,000 to carry out, was inevitable. Over the summer and into the fall, fluoride had become a political weapon, used successfully by Democratic candidates to oust two Republican commissioners who had opposed the policy. Both blamed the mineral for their defeat.

Normally confined to the sterile rooms of a dental clinic, fluoride was slapped on campaign posters and dominated stump speeches. Dentists donated to the Democrats, Charlie Justice and Janet Long, and urged their patients to vote for the candidates, both of whom promised to restore fluoridation.

And in the intervening months, the cities of Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs voted to begin adding fluoride to their water. Other cities, such as St. Petersburg, Gulfport, and Belleair, had already been doing so.

Though it was clear on Tuesday that a majority of commissioners supported fluoride, their 6-1 vote was preceded by three hours of public testimony, dominated by fluoridation opponents. Many of them accused the commission of trying to medicate or poison them. Supporters included a handful of dentists and public health advocates.

"I'm glad we got it done," Long said. "It has moved our county to a place where thoughtful and deliberate discussion and conversation can take place and you can make decisions based on scientific evidence."

Though fluoride is now county policy again, it will be several months before the roughly 700,000 people affected by the commission's vote will feel its effects. Robert Powell, the county's director of water, said that fluoridation will begin on March 1, giving county staff enough time to alert residents through fliers in their water bills.

Fluoride occurs naturally in trace amounts but not at the level recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prevent tooth decay.

In October 2011, the commission eliminated fluoride in a 4-3 vote that took many, including some of the commissioners, by surprise.

At a workshop meeting, the commission was swamped by tea party members and others who view fluoridation as an unnecessary, even malevolent, form government intervention. Many of the same people attended the meeting on Tuesday, overflowing the 150-seat commission hearing room so that 20 people had to watch the proceedings from the building's lobby.

Opponents railed against the commission. Some accused the board of trying to medicate them into submission; some warned that fluoridation was a Nazi policy designed to kill off undesirables; and some claimed that their skin ailments and other medical problems stemmed from fluoride.

Others simply wanted the government out of their faucet.

"I don't have the choice of not getting city water," said Vicki Hass, a Clearwater resident and mother of two.

"What I take and what I give my kids should be my choice," she said. "I can't afford to install a $6,000 water filtration system to take out the fluoride."

"This is terrorism at the highest," said Yvette Capetillo, a Tampa resident who said she often visits Pinellas beaches with her son. At home in Tampa, which also adds fluoride to its drinking water, Capetillo only drinks bottled water.

But this time the commission sided with the dentists.

"This is about this commission's responsibility for public health," said Commissioner Ken Welch, running down a long list of federal agencies and officials who support fluoridation.

"What we're doing has been done in the United States for more than 50 years," he said. "It is safe and effective."

One commissioner disagreed. Norm Roche, who opposed fluoridation a year ago and recently told the Tampa Bay Times that he had changed his view and would support the practice, reversed course again.

On Tuesday, he was the lone vote against adding fluoride back into the water system. His view had never changed, he said.

"It is very clear here today that there are questions, and if there are questions it (fluoride) should not go into our public drinking water supply," he said.

More than anyone, Commissioner John Morroni has embodied the board's shift since 2011, when he joined Roche and former Commissioners Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield in rejecting fluoridation.

Looking back on the vote, he said that he had been deluged with emails and phone calls from residents who opposed the practice, making it seem like it was a popular decision. But after the election, his outlook changed.

On Tuesday, he voted in favor of fluoridation. Driving to work that morning, he had passed a neighbor who stopped him to say that she had just bought fluoride pills for her children.

"We're voting it back in today," he told her.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

Comments
A religious group has settled in a big pink house in Clearwater. Neighbors aren’t happy.

A religious group has settled in a big pink house in Clearwater. Neighbors aren’t happy.

CLEARWATER — The first thing John Trevena noticed about his new neighbors was the color of their house: Pepto-Bismol pink.It didn’t worry Trevena, a criminal defense lawyer who moved into the three-bedroom rental home next door in 2015."I knew it was...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Pasco corporal who took down student on video now cleared (w/video)

Pasco corporal who took down student on video now cleared (w/video)

LAND O’LAKES — Kayla Peña filled up her water bottle then returned to her lunch table at Sunlake High School when she heard a commotion in the cafeteria on Tuesday afternoon.A female student was riled up, walking back and forth, Peña said, screaming ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 2 hours ago
Hillsborough says its teachers are well-paid; the teachers say it’s not true. Who’s right?

Hillsborough says its teachers are well-paid; the teachers say it’s not true. Who’s right?

TAMPA — Seeking to show that Hillsborough County school officials waste money that could go to teacher raises, union director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins talked about highly paid administrators. She talked about legal fees paid to outside firms when in-...
Updated: 2 hours ago
For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood High School principal Erin Savage has never planned a candlelight vigil. But this week, Savage must learn how to do so as her school mourns the tragic death of one of its graduating seniors.Bryson Welton-Williams, 18, died T...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Senator wants to put a tighter leash on airline rules for service animals

Senator wants to put a tighter leash on airline rules for service animals

WASHINGTON — Congress will consider tightening the rules on service animals allowed to accompany passengers on airliners under legislation introduced this week.Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has introduced an airline bill that would align the definition ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays bring Jonny Venters back to majors

Rays bring Jonny Venters back to majors

UPDATE, 5:34: Venters, understandably, was humbled and happy to make it back. "It's hard to put into words how I'm feeling," he said. "It's been an emotional day."Venters was in uniform in the Durham clubhouse during rain delay when he got called in ...
Updated: 4 hours ago