The Hernando County Commission sided with ignorance and scare tactics over established science and public health Tuesday, killing an effort to add fluoride to the county's drinking water without even taking a vote. Only Commissioner Diane Rowden saw the wisdom of trying to provide better dental health for county residents and particularly to low-income children who don't have regular access to dental care. Fluoride supporters should continue to educate Hernando commissioners and voters about the benefits of fluoridated water and its wide acceptance in the scientific and health care communities.
Rowden's motion to add fluoride to Hernando's drinking water was met with silence from her colleagues, who already had let fluoride opponents dominate the public discussion. "I don't want to sit here and listen to this,'' Commissioner Nick Nicholson volunteered before Palm Harbor pediatric dentist Dr. Johnny Johnson began his presentation in support of fluoridated water. At that point, 17 fluoride opponents already had addressed commissioners. They repeated much of the misinformation previously presented to the Brooksville City Council and to the Pinellas County Commission during their fluoride debates: fluoride lowers IQ, the Nazis used fluoride in World War II concentration camps, fluoride consumption is a danger to the elderly or adding fluoride violates the U.S. Constitution.
What nonsense. The federal government recommends fluoride levels of 0.7 parts per million in a liter of water while the studies warning of serious health issues focus on fluoridation levels many times higher in other countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. surgeon general, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Florida Department of Health strongly endorse fluoridating water to prevent tooth decay. Commissioners' willingness to stand on the sidelines told thousands of children — the U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than 7,500 Hernando County children live in poverty — that their health isn't worth a modest investment.
Fear and lies won Tuesday, just as they did in 1990 when Hernando commissioners approved fluoridating drinking water but retreated after critics pointed to a study citing a possible link between high doses of fluoride (up to 79 times higher than the recommended level for water supplies) and a rare form of cancer in laboratory animals.
Twenty-four years later, different commissioners still lack the political will to act in residents' best interests when it comes to matters of public health. Elected officials and voters saw the light in Pinellas County, when voters in 2012 ousted two county commissioners who voted to take fluoride out of the water and replaced them with two who immediately voted to resume adding it last year. They also saw the light in Brooksville, where the City Council has voted to start adding fluoride to the city's drinking water.
Established science, public health and common sense eventually win the day when the public debate turns from baseless accusations to informed discussions and elected officials stop fearing those who yell the loudest. In Hernando County, that day is still off in the future.