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What’s in your water?

R. Walsh

Of the Keizertimes

Fluoride – and whether it should continue to be added to Keizer’s water supply – will be the topic of a Monday Keizer City Council work session.

It’s at 5:45 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at the Keizer Civic Center.

Councilor Richard Walsh is pushing the issue forward first because of money, safety second.

“Economically it’s questionable whether we should be paying for this in light of the benefits we receive,” Walsh said. “And the benefits we receive are questionable at best.”

The cost of adding fluoride to the city’s water system adds up to $48,067 in 2010, according to a staff report by Public Works Director Rob Kissler. In addition, upgrading all the city’s pump stations to add fluoride will cost a total of $57,618.

At the work session, councilors can choose whether to put the issue to a public hearing or formal consideration before the council.

Kissler said the practice – designed to reduce tooth decay – goes back to the Keizer Water District (KWD) days and an advisory vote in 1982 where residents recommended adding fluoride to the water.

It’s a polarizing issue: The Centers for Disease Control favors the practice, calling it one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century, along with vaccination and control of infectious diseases.

The CDC also states on its website that “recent studies demonstrate that decay rates in adults are also reduced as a result of fluoride in the drinking water.”

On the other side are those who say the practice either has minimal benefits, or can actually cause health problems, particularly with babies and people with thyroid problems. A 2006 Harvard study titled “Fluoride Exposure in Drinking Water and Osteosarcoma” drew connections between boys exposed to fluoride in drinking water and a rare bone cancer.

Walsh said he’s been interested in water safety since he’s been on council, but began questioning the wisdom of spending tens of thousands of dollars on the practice.

“At a time where we have reduced police officer positions and can’t fully fund our parks and can not even afford to give the library a few thousand dollars to operate, spending $80,000 per year on fluoridation seems unjustified, especially if Keizer intends to ask for a water rate increase next year,” Walsh said.

Walsh is bringing a Lake Oswego-based dentist who opposes water fluoridation. Jim Taylor, another city councilor, plans to bring several dentists who support the practice.

Taylor noted seeing less cavities in his children than he did with his own peers when he was growing up, and called fluoridating water “very economically sound, cheap health care,” particularly for lower-income households.

He also said he was “skeptical” of the connection drawn in the Harvard study between fluoride and cancer in boys.

Kissler said the practice is endorsed by the American Waterworks Association, but didn’t offer his own opinion.

Greg Kail, spokesperson for the association, said the group’s board has endorsed the practice since 1976, and follows recommendations from major health organizations.

“In our role, we provide information that helps water professionals add fluoride at the levels that meet public health recommendations,” Kail said.

He noted the city of Keizer adopted policies from the KWD, which chose to add fluoride to the water.

“Our previous policy setters chose to fluoridate the water, and I’m carrying out their wishes,” Kissler said.