Fluoride is added to Escondido water amid complaints
By Craig Gustafson
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
August 31, 2004
ESCONDIDO – The city began adding fluoride to its water supply yesterday, and officials reported more than two dozen complaints since they announced their plans Thursday.
Meanwhile, two City Council members who oppose the plan said they would like to see the city track the much-publicized benefits of fluoride.
Workers at the city's water treatment plant began the process at noon, with nearby homes and businesses receiving fluoride-treated water shortly thereafter. It will take about 24 hours for the fluoridated water to flow through the entire system, which reaches about 75 percent of the city's 140,000 residents.
Glen Peterson, the city's interim utilities manager, said officials were increasing the fluoride level to 0.8 parts per million, considered optimal for dental health. The city's water naturally has a fluoride level of 0.3 parts per million.
Escondido is the first city or water district in San Diego County to use fluoride, which proponents say has proved safe and effective in preventing tooth decay.
"They won't see (the fluoride). They won't smell it. They won't even know it's there," Peterson said. "It'll be transparent."
Patrick Thomas, Escondido's public works director, said the city has received about two dozen complaints on its information line and a handful of angry e-mails over the past few days. Many accused the city of forcing medication on the populace.
Thomas said state law requires larger cities to begin fluoridation when funds become available. The City Council accepted a $321,000 grant in 2001 to buy equipment for the project.
"Whether or not it's forced medication, I don't know," Thomas said. "We don't believe that there is any health risk whatsoever."
Fluoride opponents question the safety of fluoridation and warn of harmful effects. Specifically, critics point to Escondido's plan to use a chemical – hydrofluorosilic acid – containing minute amounts of arsenic and lead to add fluoride to the water, which they say could result in higher incidents of cancer.
Seven concerned residents filed a lawsuit to stop the city's fluoride plan in 2001. The lawsuit has evolved to focus on hydrofluorosilic acid. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 12.
Owen Morrison, one of the plaintiffs, likened the issue to school prayers and called the city's plan "unconstitutional."
"If I have a reasonable doubt, which I do and I think many thinking persons would, and if fluoride can be obtained by other means, the state and city have no right to force it into my water supply," Morrison said.
The plaintiffs' lawyers plan to show that the city ignored arsenic-free fluoride options.
City officials argue that arsenic levels in Escondido will be a tiny fraction of the 2006 federal standard of 10 parts per billion. Recent tests showed the level of arsenic would be 0.01 to 0.08 parts per billion in Escondido's fluoridated water, they said.
City Council members Marie Waldron and Ed Gallo, who voted against fluoridation in 2001, said they expect the city to measure the results of using fluoride.
"If you can't track it to show the results, then what's the point of doing it?" Gallo asked. "There has to be a benefit. How else do you know if it's effective or not?"
Waldron questioned why the city chose to use a fertilizer byproduct to add fluoride to the water.
"Why is the state wanting us to use hydrofluorosilic acid – a hazardous waste that would otherwise have to be disposed of?" she asked. "I don't want to bathe in it. I don't want to put my son in it. We get enough fluoride all the time in what we eat and drink anyway."
Waldron said she plans to purchase a reverse-osmosis system to strip the fluoride from her water.
For more information, call the city's Fluoride Information Line at (760) 839-6217 or visit www.ci.escondido.ca.us/news/fluoride.