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02/27/1999 - Santa Cruz voters face water fluoridation ballot .

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White Teeth Or Red Scare?
Santa Cruz anti-fluoride vote reminiscent of anti-Communists

by Marshall Wilson, Chronicle Staff Writer
  Saturday, March 6, 1999

``I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.''

-- General Jack D. Ripper talking about fluoridated water in ``Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb''


Fluoridated water, once seen as a Communist conspiracy to ruin America, is now a no-no in what many view as the closest thing America has to a lefty, pinko enclave: Santa Cruz.

Voters in the coastal community, a self-declared nuclear-free zone where it's illegal to discriminate against fat people, narrowly sided this week with the anti-fluoride camp -- a group once composed of die-hard anti-Communists. The vote aims to stave off a state law that mandates adding fluoride to the city's water.

The no-fluoride stance puts Santa Cruz, where just one in seven voters are Republicans, solidly in sync with San Diego, hardly a bastion of barefoot tree-huggers and vegans.

Although the vote was tight, 4,441 to 4,367, Santa Cruz sent a message that locals should decide what passes their lips, not politicians in Sacramento, Councilman Mike Rotkin said. He attributed the anti- fluoride movement to a general distrust of taking at face value what so-called health experts say.

``It's the difference between believing nuclear power is entirely safe because experts told us so and my experience,'' said Rotkin, who said he has spent hundreds of hours researching the fluoride issue.

``For those of us who came of age in the '60s, we have more questions,'' he added. ``I think more and more people from my generation feel there are reasons to question experts.''

Most dental experts say the chemical is a safe, inexpensive and effective way to prevent tooth decay. State Senator Jackie Speier, the Hillsborough Democrat who wrote the law, called the anti-fluoride campaign ``very deliberate, clever and deceptive.''

``The anti-fluoride groups are very small and very vociferous and promote a lot of very misleading information that is not supported by science and rarely by facts,'' she said.

Speier didn't call it a conspiracy, but she noted the measure did not mention fluoride by name.

Instead, the voters who turned out, just 24 percent, were asked if the municipal code should be changed to prohibit ``the use of the city's water supply to deliver products or substances intended to affect the physical or mental functions of persons consuming such water?'' That means no Prozac out of the faucet, either.

Under the 1995 state law, public water systems with more than 10,000 connections must add fluoride when state funds become available. Santa Cruz landed 12th on a state funding priority list.

The good news for anti-fluoride activists is that there is no state money. No money; no fluoride.

Instead, a private foundation has granted $10 million toward fluoridating water, but with a different priority formula -- and Santa Cruz is ``not even on the radar screen,'' said Dr. Donald Lyman, chief of chronic disease and injury control for the state Department of Health Services, whose purview includes fluoridation.

``I'm not about to show up with money or a warrant to force implementation,'' Lyman said.

Still, Lyman said, state officials believe they have the power to order fluoride in Santa Cruz's water if they come up with the money.

``Once we find money, we can force fluoridation,'' he said, ``but we have to have the money first.''

Lyman said he hopes officials in San Diego, which passed an anti- fluoride ordinance years ago, will voluntarily choose to fluoridate.

In Santa Cruz, where the City Council opposed fluoride 6 to 1, officials expressed little fear of the state yesterday.

``If the state wants to force this issue, they can file suit against the city,'' said John Barisone, Santa Cruz city attorney.

Fluoride opponents suspect that the additive causes severe medical problems that include bone decay, cancer, brain damage, a low IQ in children and fluorosis, a condition that causes blotches on the teeth from too much fluoride. They say people get plenty of fluoride from toothpaste, orange juice, sodas and elsewhere.

``You haven't got the faintest idea how much water I drink. I don't have the faintest idea how much water you drink,'' said Jeff Green of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water. ``You can't control the dosage.''

Health officials first added fluoride to public water in 1945 in Grand Rapids, Mich., in an attempt to prevent tooth decay. About 60 percent of the nation's drinking water is fluoridated.

But in California, just 17 percent of the cities with public water supplies add fluoride, for a total of 5 million people, according to the California Dental Association. The state ranks 47th in the nation.

That's just fine with opponents. Rotkin, the councilman, said the medical evidence failed to convince him fluoride is safe, especially for small children.

``If my parents knew I was taking some stance against fluoride in water they would laugh,'' he said, adding that when he was young, right- wingers held to the Strangelove line, thinking that fluoride was ``a conspiracy to sap the precious bodily fluids of America.''

But Bruce Donald, a Santa Cruz dentist, said in a statement that ``scare tactics'' worked against the public good in the vote.

``It is particularly unfortunate given the fact that the almost $120,000 in taxpayer money spent on staging this election could have provided dental care for those in our community, especially children, who don't have access to treatment,'' he said.


 

 

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