Folks pack City Hall as fluoride debate heats up

Folks pack City Hall as fluoride debate heats up »Play Video
A woman who created a scene is escorted out of City Council chambers on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 during a hearing on whether to add fluoride to Portland's drinking water. KATU photo.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Should fluoride be added to the city's water supply?

That's the question that was being discussed at a City Council hearing Thursday afternoon and folks packed the chambers to sound off on what they think the city should do.

Around 200 or so people signed up to speak to the City Council about the issue and at one point, things got a little heated when a woman who opposes the idea was escorted out of chambers following an outburst.

Outside City Hall, demonstrators gathered with signs to show their opposition to the idea of fluoridation.

"I drink two quarts of water a day," said demonstrator Renee Kimball. "I'm taking in probably four times as much fluoride as someone else."

Supporters were there as well.

"The facts are the facts - fluoridation works," said Kylie Menagh-Johnson. "It reduces tooth decay by at least 25 percent in both adults and children. And no amount of debate or misinformation is going to change those facts."

Portland Mayor Sam Adams, as well as City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish, support the plan. Adams said Oregon's children suffer from much higher rates of tooth decay than kids in neighboring states, and noted that the problem is especially stubborn for lower-income children whose parents can't afford dentists.

"I'm all for Portland standing up and being its wonderful, weird self, but not in this regard," he said.

There are some local officials outside of Portland who feel they are being left out of the conversation, even though their water comes from the same place - the Bull Run reservoir.

In Gresham, Mayor Shane Bemis told us he is frustrated that there has been no process to let him have a voice in the matter. At this point, he has not taken a stance on the fluoride issue either way but said he feels that the matter as a whole is not being handled well.

Both Bemis and Lou Ogden, Tualatin's mayor, wrote letters to Portland Mayor Sam Adams and the City Council saying "in this case, fluoridation is clearly an elective expense as opposed to a necessary expense" and that the "process feels like it happened behind closed doors with very little input."

Bemis said he has not heard back from Adams. He said Adams instead had the pro-fluoride folks call him to explain their position.

Many in Portland, and the state at large, have long opposed public fluoridation. While 73 percent of the U.S. population drinks water treated with fluoride, the rate is less than 25 percent in Oregon.

Portland is the second-largest city in the country without fluoride in its water, behind San Jose, Calif., according to the American Dental Association. The water district serving San Jose has voted to begin fluoridation, but money to do so hasn't been raised.

Portland voters have three times rejected fluoridation, most recently in 1980. The issue had not been on the public radar until early August, when The Oregonian reported that a coalition of health and other organizations had been lobbying the City Council to fluoridate the water, and gained the support of Leonard, who oversees the Portland Water Bureau.

City Hall quickly received hundreds of calls from supporters and opponents of fluoridation, which would cost an estimated $5 million.