CDA pulls plug on Watsonville fluoridation project

2008 11 10 11 04 21 112 Fluoride 70

Following a 10-year battle that went all the way to the California Supreme Court, a decision was made this week for the city of Watsonville, CA, not to adopt water fluoridation due to the cost of implementing the fluoridation system.

Watsonville's battle over water fluoridation dates back to 2002, when residents voted by a small margin to eliminate the practice. But the city lost a subsequent court battle that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, in which it contested a 1995 state law that requires any California city with a population of more than 10,000 to fluoridate its water if outside funding is provided.

Late last year, the Watsonville City Council voted to accept $1.6 million in funding from the California Dental Association (CDA) to help build a fluoridation system. City leaders and antifluoridation groups had resisted proposals in the past, citing concerns over harmful side effects of fluoridation while questioning its necessity.

"The decision on whether or not to fluoridate was purely political, based on the efforts of the city council," Steve Palmisano, the city's water division manager, told in November 2011.

“Watsonville's project bids far exceeded the estimated costs of the fluoridation facilities.”
— Donald Rollofson, DMD, chair, CDA

But construction costs ultimately made the project unfeasible. Of the three bids submitted, all were between $1.2 million and $1.9 million over budget. In addition, none of the bids included an additional setup, operation, and maintenance expense of $640,000.

"Unfortunately, Watsonville's project bids far exceeded the estimated costs of the fluoridation facilities," stated Donald Rollofson, DMD, chair of the CDA Foundation, in a press release.

The CDA Foundation would have had the necessary funding if the bids came in at $1.6 million, which was the design firm's original estimate, according to Alicia Malaby, director of communications at the CDA.

"We requested two extensions to review the construction bids and to seek additional funding opportunities," she told "An engineer hired by CDA felt the bids, which came in significantly higher, were appropriate to the scope of the project."

The funding shortfall put the decision back in the CDA's hands. Faced with a February 2 deadline, the association determined it would be unable to make up the difference.

The CDA continues to believe that the community of Watsonville would benefit from fluoridation, however.

"Many in Watsonville suffer from dental disease -- statewide data show children in particular live in chronic pain, miss school, and have difficulty learning due to untreated tooth decay," Dr. Rollofson stated.

In 2010, more than 90% of kindergartners in the city had unhealthy teeth, Salud Para La Gente, a health clinic in Watsonville, noted in an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. More than 25% of the children in one unnamed school had pronounced caries when they began kindergarten, while one in five of 816 students screened had dental decay, according to clinic data.

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