PINELLAS PARK — The County Commission's decision last year to take fluoride out of the drinking water upset Pinellas Park council member Jerry Mullins, whose first thought was of the children, especially the poorer ones, in his city.
"We have a lot of children in our town who probably don't get the best dental care,'' said Mullins, whose city buys its water from the county. "(Fluoridated water) may be the only dental care they get."
So Mullins went to City Manager Mike Gustafson and asked if the city could restore the fluoride the county had removed. The short answer — yes.
Now the Pinellas Park council will consider doing just that. The discussion is scheduled for the council's Jan. 24 workshop. Gustafson said city staff will have a presentation that covers costs and how it could be done.
If the cost is reasonable, all five council members say they're willing to fluoridate the city's drinking water.
"I think we should have it," Mullins said. "If it's at all physically possible and financially sound, we should do it."
Details about the process and cost were unavailable Thursday, but Gustafson said some of the costs might be offset by state grants. As for the process, the fluoride would have to be injected into the water at three different sites. And a city employee would have to monitor the water after the fluoride is put into the system.
Most of the council members saw fluoridating the water as a matter of public health. But it may also be a matter of demand. Mayor-elect Sandy Bradbury said she has had residents ask if Pinellas Park would restore the fluoride the county removed as of Dec. 31.
Some council members were unsure why the County Commission by a 4-3 vote would opt to eliminate fluoride. When commissioners voted in October to eliminate it, they had been confronted by citizens who claimed that fluoride is a poison and is detrimental to health. Commissioners also referred to the $205,000 a year it cost to put fluoride in the water for about 700,000 consumers. But they also heard from dentists and others that the fluoride is beneficial and protects teeth from decay.
"The county commissioners do not have the expertise to deny it like that," Mayor Bill Mischler said. "I think they just ignored the dental profession. … To me, it's been used in water in all other states for years and years. I don't see peoples' teeth falling out. If it's not broken, don't fix it."
Council member Ed Taylor said he doesn't think fluoridated drinking water is harmful.
"As far as I know, I've always had it in my water. I'm 63 years old and I still have all my teeth," Taylor said. "I don't have any hair (but) I don't think it's tied to (fluoride)."
The sticking point, if there is one, is likely to be cost. Pinellas Park, like other local governments, must watch every penny it spends during the economic downturn. The cost and ability to sustain the expense over the long term could be a whole discussion of its own, Taylor said.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.