Voters might get a chance in April to decide whether the city of Durango should continue adding fluoride to its drinking water – a contentious topic that has divided the program’s supporters and critics.
Durangoan Jim Forleo recently told The Durango Herald he has started the process to put a measure on the April city ballot that would effectively be a yes or no vote on whether the city continues to add fluoride to drinking water.
Forleo has until Dec. 1 to submit to the city clerk a list of at least five petitioners to help circulate the ballot. Forleo said Wednesday he has 20 people signed up to help, and welcomes more.
Amy Phillips, director of administrative services for the city clerk’s office, said the office would review the petition, and if everything checks out, the formal petition would be handed out Dec. 9.
Then, Forleo and supporters would have 30 days to gather 593 signatures.
If the group accomplishes that goal, the petition would be presented to the Durango City Council, and councilors would decide whether to adopt the petition (essentially removing fluoride) or leave it up to a vote.
City Council actionThe council in June decided to continue fluoridation, so it’s more than likely the matter would appear on the April ballot.
Several city councilors reiterated support of adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
“In my judgment, the small risk of harm is over-balanced by benefit to low-income citizens for better oral health,” said City Councilor Dick White.
For more than a half-century, the federal government has recommended adding fluoride into drinking water to promote healthier oral hygiene, especially as it relates to low-income communities.
Yet a growing number of cities throughout the country have opted out of the program despite the federal government’s and local health officials’ continued support.
The push to stop fluoridating water began in earnest when the federal government around 2007 cautioned about the risks of excessive fluoride consumption, which it said can lead to dental fluorosis.
Since 2010, the Fluoride Action Network reports 3.5 million residents throughout 64 North American communities have rejected the practice of fluoridating water, including Albuquerque, Portland, Oregon, and Wichita, Kansas.
Forleo, a local chiropractor, hopes Durango will be added to that list this spring.
“They are putting a drug in the water, and they’re doing it without our consent,” he said. “We have no idea the levels of fluoride our children and adults take in every single day. No one is keeping track.”
Health effects debatedForleo believes that other symptoms, such as increased cases of ADHD and decreased IQ levels in children, neurological disorders and other health complications can be attributed, in part, to consuming too much fluoride.
The San Juan Basin Health Department on Wednesday maintained its support of the program, saying, “Extensive research has proven that community water fluoridation is safe, effective and inexpensive.”
City Councilor Dean Brookie, a supporter of fluoridation, took issue Thursday with the petition, saying the issue is too complicated to be a yes or no vote.
“It’s not hard to get a referendum on the ballot, as we know from the plastic bag issue,” he said, referencing when voters in 2013 repealed a City Council ordinance that would have charged shoppers 10 cents for each disposable bag they carry away from grocery stores.
“It’s (referendums) usually not a good way to enact a public policy.”
Forleo starkly believes the opposite. He said with the cost for residents to remove fluoride so high, it’s only fair to let voters decide whether the substance is added or not.
He said anyone interested in joining the movement can reach him by phone at 247-8534 or email at email@example.com