Health official felt pressure from pro-fluoride group about dental data, email says

Health official felt pressure from pro-fluoride group about dental data, email says »Play Video
Upstream Public Health Co-Director Mel Rader (right) said the pro-fluoride group did not pressure the state about Smile Survey results. (KATU photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Days before Portland voters decide whether to add fluoride to the city’s drinking water, newly released internal emails have an anti-fluoride group calling for a state investigation.

Clean Water Portland suggests that the Oregon Health Authority sat on data because it showed a decrease in tooth decay without fluoride in Portland's drinking water. The emails obtained by The Oregonian suggest the group Upstream Public Health put pressure on the state.

Both Upstream Public Health and the Oregon Health Authority deny the accusations.

At the center of the controversy is the 2012 Smile Survey, a snapshot of Oregon kids’ dental health. KATU was the first to put in a public records request for the results. The data shows kids in Multnomah County improved their dental health by ten percent between 2007 and 2012.

Emails obtained by The Oregonian show Oregon’s oral health program manager, Shanie Mason, felt “a ton of pressure from advocates like Upstream Public Health” about how to present the survey data.

The email goes on to say, “Unfortunately for them, I’m committed to maintaining the integrity of our work.”

“We did not pressure the state about Smile Survey results,” said Upstream Public Health Co-Director Mel Rader. “We contacted the state because we wanted to know when the results would come out.”

“We did ask generally how they would be presented,” Rader told KATU. “We didn’t get very much information at all about that.”

The anti-fluoride campaign, Clean Water Portland, doesn’t buy that, and worries the pressure from a lobbying group influenced the state employees’ actions.

“If they were getting pressure, and rather than release the data when predicted to be released, that they sat on it, at a time when this data is of crucial importance for the voters to make a decision, an informed decision,” said Kimberly Kaminski, chair of Clean Water Portland. “I think OHA’s behavior is inexcusable. I think there’s real questions about why the data wasn’t released, why they were feeling pressure from Upstream, what is really going on here?”

Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie told KATU “The notion that Oregon Public Health Division staff members were somehow colluding with Upstream Public Health in its pro-fluoridation activities is preposterous.”

As for the timeline to release the data? An email obtained by The Oregonian and written in February says “our goal is to release something this month.”

Modie said the data wasn’t released then because it was “just a personal deadline… There was no official due date.”

Modie said he wouldn’t worry if the Department of Justice moved forward with an investigation.

“Any scrutiny at that level would yield that there was nothing wrongful, inappropriate or illegal going on,” he said.

Rader said he believes the demand for an investigation is a political ploy.