What is ‘pure’? City hopes for clarity on issue as groups on debate the standards for water additives


News staff writer

April 22

The political waters are murky over two ballot measures headed toward Hood River city voters that deal with fluoridation.

Measure 14-23 seeks to ban “industrial waste by-products,” including fluoride, from the water supply and will be brought before voters on May 17. But, even if the Drinking Water Protection Measure passes, the City Council plans to ask voters, in November, to directly approve or deny fluoridation.

However, opponents of fluoridation believe a victory with 14-23 will nullify the second measure and keep it off the fall ballot. They contend that a challenge can be made over any proposed choice of fluoride because the additive is created during manufacturing of commercial fertilizers.

And even tougher, 14-23 bans any chemical that does not meet stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goals.

“The burden of proof to meet these standards would really be on the city. The fluoride that is typically used contains both arsenic and lead and would not be eligible for Hood River’s drinking water,” said Brent Foster, attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the measure’s supporters.

Bob Francis, city manager, said a list of industrial waste by-products needs to be compiled if Measure 14-23 goes into effect. He said the city charter cannot be amended with only a vague reference to the issue, the language has to be more clearly defined.

“In my opinion, if the constituents are out there and vote ‘yes’ on this, then somebody — I assume the same constituency — will tell us what those by-products are,” said Francis.

However, if that list includes sodium fluoride, it is certain to face a strong protest from supporters of that additive.

The Healthy Teeth for a Lifetime campaign led by area dental and medical professionals contends that lead and arsenic are not even detectable in two different brands of sodium fluoride. Dr. Kyle House said that is the type of fluoride used in toothpaste and topical rinses. He also said there is 445,000 times more arsenic in a can of tuna than would be in the water and 65,000 times more arsenic in a bowl of crisped rice cereal.

“I think sodium fluoride is right for Hood River because it’s the purest form of fluoride used as a water additive,” said House.

If the Hood River Drinking Water Protection (HRDWP) political action committee, which authored 14-23, is successful in getting sodium fluoride on the list — because it is a generated during fertilizer production — the stakes rise sharply. The debate will then center on what constitutes an acceptable “pure” form of fluoride.

Foster said questions have arisen over whether even pharmaceutical grade fluoride is free of toxins. House said that type of fluoride is typically used only for medical treatments and would be too costly for a drinking water additive because that is not its purpose. He also said it is not as pure in its diluted form as sodium fluoride.

Also expected to be challenged if 14-23 gains approval is the requirement that any chemical put into the water supply meet the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.

That standard does not apply to chlorine or any other substance necessary for purification purposes. House said the EPA goals are not an enforceable standard because they set an ideal for absolute purity that does not exist in any water system today.

HRDWP contends that the city should be working to remove all toxins from the drinking water of citizens, and not adding more chemicals. In fact, the group claims that even previously acceptable levels of lead have now been shown by medical experts to impair the intelligence of children.

If 14-23 fails, the battle will rage through the summer months as both sides continue divisive arguments over fluoridation. The city council decided in late December to proceed with former Councilor Charles Haynie’s proposal to bring a “neutral” measure before voters. Haynie, a strong advocate of fluoride as a public health concern, won approval for that option just before leaving his elected office. He had lost a legal challenge to overturn the HRDWP’s proposed measure earlier the same month.

Two council members, Paul Cummings and Carrie Nelson, argued against the city getting involved in the “hot button” issue. But the remainder of the council at that time, including Linda Rouches, A.J. Kitt, Paul Blackburn and Andrea Klaas, believed they were not taking sides by sponsoring a ballot issue. They felt asking voters simply “should we fluoridate or should we not” was appropriate because it would settle a long-standing debate.

The HRDWP reacted strongly to having the government entity bring forward the issue of water fluoridation. Members of the political action committee immediately launched a petition drive to bring their own measure before voters.

Meanwhile, about 194 households in Dee have no voice on what happens to the water they receive from a city line. They cannot vote on either measure but will have to live with the results of the popular opinion.

If fluoridation is approved, Francis invites Dee residents to let him know where they stand. He said if enough citizen objections are raised, the city may look into erecting the fluoridation plant north of that community so their water is unaffected.

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