The Longview City Council may halt the addition of tooth-decay fighting fluoride to the city’s drinking water — a public process that caused considerable debate in Kalama five years ago.
Councilwoman MaryAlice Wallis first broached the idea late last year when she proposed stopping the purchase of fluorosilicic acid, the chemical the city uses to supplement naturally-occurring fluoride in city water.
Prompted by concerned citizens, Wallis researched the controversial debate over how much the city should add, she said Wednesday.
“There is some research that the chemical can be damaging to our health,” she said. “The amount we add, to my understanding, is really insignificant in the scheme of things … so why are we adding it in the first place? It’s maybe $40,000 in our budget, but could we be using that $40,000 to help our community in another way?”
Longview’s Mint Farm well water naturally contains about 0.25 mg to 0.3 mg per liter of fluoride, Public Works Director Jeff Cameron said Wednesday. The state Department of Health recommends a level of 0.7 mg per liter, so the city adds fluorosilicic acid to bring up its levels. (The fluoride in the city’s water is not related to the old Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum plant, which is less than a mile away from the Mint Farm wells, Cameron said, because it is found throughout the deep groundwater supply, including locations far away from the plant.)
The city has fluoridated its water for decades. Advocates say it is a proven, safe way to fight tooth decay. Opponents argue that fluoride can cause thyroid, kidney and neurological problems and that populations without fluoridated water have seen declines in tooth cavities.
The City Council in November approved a fluoride chemical purchase bid, but it also directed staff to schedule a time to publicly discuss whether to keep adding fluoride.
“I think we need to have that discussion. I think we need to have it where it’s been out and the public has seen it so they know what we’re talking about,” Councilman Chet Makinster said at the time.
However, during a council retreat in January, the council decided not to buy any more of the chemical until the supply runs out in May, at which point it would consider whether to continue, Wallis said.
The city is still adding fluoride, said City Manager Kurt Sacha, and the council likely will discuss fluoride use at a public workshop or meeting in April or May.
“I’m not an expert on water. I just know the information I’ve been given and there seems to be some measure of validity to the research that is out there on fluorosilicic acid that it is harmful to our health,” Wallis said.
Woodland stopped adding fluoride to its water in 2013. Kalama debated throughout 2014 whether to end fluoride use, but it decided to continue after residents voted 68 percent in favor of continued fluoridation.
Wallis said she wants to rely on the expert opinions of scientists about how to proceed, and she acknowledged the discussion could cause a controversy.
“Definitely a lot of people would want to weigh in on this. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not,” Wallis said. “However, I am a council person for the city and every single person counts to me. I wouldn’t want one person to not have the opportunity to know about this subject and weigh in if they wanted. I’ve heard other communities that go into this have fractured their community. I don’t want to do that.”