Roughly one year after opting to end water fluoridation, Florida's Pinellas County, which supplies water to some 700,000 people, will reinstate the practice following a 6-1 vote by the Board of County Commissioners this week.
"The re-establishment of fluoridation should be a wake-up call for other city and county governments that they should not bow to scare tactics and Tea Party antigovernment extremism, but should instead base public health policy on credible public health science," Scott Tomar, DMD, DrPH, a professor in the department of community dentistry and behavioral science at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, stated in an email to DrBicuspid.com.
Norm Roche, commissioner of District 2, testified and voted against fluoridation this week and in October 2011, when he served as a prominent opponent of it during a successful effort to end fluoridation.
commissioner, District 1
"Science and public health had nothing to do with this," Roche said during an interview with DrBicuspid.com. "This was about politics and power."
Roche argued that, with the advancements in toothpaste and other dental treatments that have been made, fluoridation is no longer as necessary as it was 50 years ago.
"It's not some ideological objection or political partisanship -- they keep calling me a Tea Party guy, but the Tea Party didn't even support me due to my position on certain issues," he said.
Nonetheless, the role of government featured prominently in the debate.
"There were compelling arguments asking, 'Is this a government function?' " Janet Long, commissioner of District 1, told DrBicuspid.com. "That's something that I wrestled with. At the same time, I think of other things the government does to protect health, and I think that's one of our major responsibilities."
Public support clear?
Roche said his constituents felt that the government was infringing upon their right to communicate with their dentists and doctors about what medicines they wanted to put into their bodies. He and Long agreed that, as government officials, protecting public health is their most important duty, but they held different views on the role of fluoridation in this process.
"Several who spoke in opposition of it were PhDs and industrial chemists," Roche said. "What I said in my closing comments was that I don't know that it's my role to sit here and determine which of you PhDs are worthy of their accreditation. How do you say which one is right and which is crazy? If there are too many questions, it doesn't belong in the public's drinking water."
Long felt there was sufficient evidence supporting fluoridation's safety. "I say, respectfully, that I disagree with Mr. Roche and his assessment," she said.
Roche called the commissioners' decision "remarkable" and complained that it did not accurately reflect the will of the people.
"If you want to know how they feel, put it to a referendum," he said. "The ferocity of the opposition to a referendum from the newspaper editors, some of my colleagues, and the phosphate industry ought to raise a red flag for everyone. You can't go around saying the citizens have spoken [when] you haven't asked."
Long, a new member of the commission who won her spot in the November election after emphasizing the need to reinstate fluoridation during her campaign, said that her 11-point victory -- which unseated a Republican commissioner for the first time in 30 years -- reflects plenty of support from Pinellas County citizens for fluoridation. She supplanted one of two commissioners who had voted against fluoridation in 2011 and were eventually voted out of office; another commissioner reversed his position from last year, according to a November 14 article in the Tampa Bay Times.
That same article predicted that the commission would be unanimously in favor of fluoridation because Roche also had decided to change his vote. However, Roche said he has never supported fluoridation and cited a combative relationship with the newspaper's editorial board as the reason for them "misrepresenting the facts."
Cost to reinstate
With the vote completed, residents will be made aware of the decision via notices in their water bill.
"It won't take long for people to find out because it sure didn't take people long to find out when they took it out," Long stated.
Long and Roche predicted that customers should not see an increase in their bill to cover the cost of fluoridation. "It's not like [the county] saved the money when they took the fluoride out; they just spent it on something else," Long said.
The county will have to pay $130,000 to cover the cost of purchasing the fluoridation chemical hydrofluosilicic acid, plus $30,000 in operation and management costs associated with restarting the process and $25,000 to replace the treatment plant's computer system, the Times reported.