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By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A proposal before the Keizer City Council would halt purchase of fluoridation equipment for five of the city’s wells.

Councilor Richard Walsh, who first questioned whether adding fluoride to the city’s water supply was a worthwhile endeavor, requested the moratorium, with Councilors Brandon Smith and Cathy Clark concurring.

Passionate testimony at a Keizer City Council work session in October fell more often than not in favor of keeping fluoride in the city’s water system. The widespread practice is a public health measure to reduce dental caries, and has been called by the Centers for Disease Control as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.

Walsh’s proposal would not stop the existing fluoridation process, but would instead halt additional purchases of fluoridation equipment.

The city has 15 wells, nine of which already have fluoridation equipment, according to a staff report from City Attorney Shannon Johnson. It would halt planned purchases of equipment for five more wells; revamping of another well with fluoridation is already underway and cannot be changed per contract, Johnson wrote.

The additional purchases and installation would cost about $48,015.

“Currently we are fluoridating the system 100 percent about 80 percent of the year,” said Public Works Director Rob Kissler. “With the purchase of these additional systems, our system will be 100 percent fluoridated even during the high consumption times of summer.”

Walsh said he is “not convinced that a compelling case has been made that our current system of fluoridation is broken or has resulted in an unacceptable level of cavities sufficient to justify this additional expense.”

In a white paper delivered to councilors, Walsh stated the fluoride dips below American Dental Association’s recommended amount of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (PPM) during summer months, where more water is used to irrigate, fill swimming pools, wash cars and other non-consumption uses. The additional equipment would be needed to maintain said level of fluoridation.

Without adding the equipment, Walsh wrote, annual cost this fiscal year to put fluoride in the city’s water is $48,067. With the new equipment, annual operating cost would rise to $78,572 in 2010 dollars.

“There is no evidence suggesting a need to increase the fluoride we put into our water,” he added.

Councilor Jim Taylor believes the proposal is “a back-door ploy to lessen fluoride,” noting the money appropriated for the purchases is already budgeted.

“I’m not willing to condemn the next generation being born now to bad health,” Taylor said.

Smith said he’s leaning toward stopping the equipment replacement, and questions the extent of the government’s role in what is essentially a public health measure.

“I understand it’s legal and a widely-accepted practice across the country,” Smith said. “…This is an issue that is very personal to those who know and care about it, and I don’t take that lightly.  I’m less concerned with the science, since there is significant disagreement between the experts, and more concerned with clarifying the question of whether it’s the government’s role to perform this service.”