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Published Tuesday, February 23, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News


The opinion of the Mercury News

Vote no on N in Santa Cruz

FLUORIDATION of drinking water ought to be a no-brainer. Few measures offer such tangible gain in public health for such low cost.

That's the reason the state mandated fluoridation of large water retailers three years ago.

Yet perhaps because it's preventive, rather than curative, fluoridation has remained controversial even while widely practiced. Fifty years of success with fluoridated water haven't stopped conspiracy theorists -- first from the right, and now the left -- from attacking fluoridation and stirring up public suspicions.

Last year, the Santa Cruz City Council bowed to pressure from the anti-fluoridation lobby and passed an ordinance prohibiting fluoridation without a public vote. Water is not fluoridated in Santa Cruz anyway, but now the fluoridation opponents propose to go a step further. They're asking residents to pass Measure N on March 2. It would prevent any future council from undoing the requirement for public approval before water can be fluoridated in Santa Cruz. In effect, they want to put a double cap on a pipe that's already bone dry.

Measure N is not only wrongheaded, it's also likely to be illegal. The state contends that local voters can't override its regulation of water supply.

Fluoridation benefits dental health, especially for poor children whose parents cannot afford dental care. Fluoridated water cuts dental decay in baby teeth by as much as 60 percent, and in adult teeth by 35 percent. Every dollar invested in fluoridation saves an estimated $140 in dental bills.

Proponents of Measure N, led by organizers working out of San Diego, argue that water ought to be kept pure. Measure N would forbid adding to drinking water substances ``for the purpose of affecting the physical or mental functions of the body.''

In an attempt to clarify the ambiguous wording of the initiative, sponsors promised the city council last fall that they weren't opposed to water treatment for safety, only to fluoridation. They argue that people can take pills or use fluoridated toothpaste for dental health.

It's an odd let-them-eat-cake attitude in a city that normally sympathizes with the poor. Their fear-mongering, including claims that the fluoride added to water is an industrial hazardous waste that manufacturers would otherwise have to pay to get rid of, borders on the ridiculous.

Allegations of the harmfulness of fluoride are either unproven or marginal compared with the public health benefit. Fluoridation is supported by groups ranging from the American Medical Association, the World Health Organizations and the California PTA.

Measure N is also unfair to residents of Live Oak and other unincorporated areas, who drink Santa Cruz water but will not be permitted to vote next week.

Last fall, Mountain View residents voted strongly for fluoridating their drinking water. On March 2, we recommend you vote no on Measure N, the fluoridation ban, in Santa Cruz.