CLEARWATER — The city has completed a drinking water revolution that was years in the making.
On Tuesday, the city began adding fluoride to its drinking water to bring levels to 0.7 milligrams per liter. Clearwater residents were already drinking water that had some fluoride, but most were not getting the optimal 0.7 milligram level recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service.
Fluoridation has long been hailed by medical professionals as a game changer for public dental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, numerous studies have shown that fluoride safely strengthens teeth and helps prevent cavities.
But the political discussion around fluoride has also grown contentious in recent years. In 2011, the Pinellas County Commission narrowly voted to stop adding fluoride to the county's water. Some commissioners said then the county's fluoride levels might be dangerously high.
Two commissioners who voted for that change were ousted in 2012. The newly pro-fluoride commission reintroduced the compound to the county's water supply in 2013.
In 2018, Clearwater City Council member Bob Cundiff broke with his colleagues, voting against a plan to build fluoride storage pumps at city water treatment plants.
"I think it's unethical to force medical treatment on people that may be harmful to them," Cundiff said then.
The decision by Clearwater to add fluoride to its water coincides with the city's movement toward water independence. On any given day, the city gets 20-40 percent of its water from the county, public utilities director David Porter said. But the city hopes to be completely independent in two to four years.