Committee votes to continue adding fluoride to city water

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Austin committee members voted to continue fluoridating city water after taking no action on a proposal to remove the added fluoride.

The Public Utilities Committee and Health and Human Services Committee considered a resolution from Council Member Don Zimmerman that claimed it is unethical to force residents to consume fluoride and called for the city to end fluoridation by December. The proposal will die before being heard by Austin City Council since the committees chose not to take action on it.

After the committee vote, several anti-fluoride activists yelled, “You’re killing our kids,” and many walked out of the meeting. Opponents of water fluoridation held signs with statements such as “Poisoning the public water supply with industrial waste is abuse of public trust and on the wrong side of history.”

Henry Rodriguez, representative from the League of United Latin American Citizens, testified before the committees opposing water fluoridation because he said it constitutes a violation of his individual rights by the government.

“You’re not going to tell me that this is not a civil rights violation because forced medication is exactly that,” Rodriguez said.

Ora Houston, Council member of the Public Health and Human Services Committee, said fluoride in the water may supplement lack of access to regular dental care for low-income families.
“When we try to compare how your life might be and how other children’s lives may be — I don’t think that’s a very fair comparison, and I don’t think we have a standard of living at this point in our city where we can make those assumptions for people,” Houston said.

Philip Huang, medical director and health authority for the Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said in his testimony that community fluoridation in the United States has helped reduce tooth loss and decay across all age groups. Certain fluoride studies make people worried about water fluoridation, according to Huang.

“In a setting like this, you’re going to hear cherry-picked data, research findings [and] misstatements of fact,” Huang said. “You’ll hear scare tactics.”

According to the Center for Disease Control’s website, 67 percent of cities in the United States currently fluoridate their water. Austin has been putting fluoride in its drinking water since 1973, and national follow-up studies have shown a 50 to 70 percent reduction in cavities after adding fluoride, according to Austin Water Utilities’ website.

Ann Kitchen, Council member of the Public Utilities Committee, said she trusts public health care officials’ evidence and believes water fluoridation is critical for children.

“I have to tell you that I support the continued community water fluoridation because, as far as I’m concerned, the risk to our children is much, much greater without having community water fluoridation,” Kitchen said.

According to the committees, the City Council could call for a public vote on the issue if it receives a petition at least 20,000 signatures from anti-fluoride advocates.