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Citizen Activism Dampens Water Threat
by Miriam Knight
Miriam Knight
Shortly after 1pm on April 11th in Hearing Room "B", State Senator Fisher opened a hearing on SB 99. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kate Brown, calls for mandatory fluoridation of Oregon’s water. Sen. Fisher anticipated public comment to take 35-40 minutes, but, to his credit, did not close it down until everyone had had a say, some 4 hours later.

As incredible as it seems, for a state that considers itself one of the most environmentally and health conscious states in the country, this bill was in danger of being railroaded through. It was thanks to the massive efforts of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, that an impressive line up of organizations and individuals packed the hearing room. The Internet was invaluable in helping Lynne Campbell coordinate the efforts of so many people and keep them all on the same page.

The star expert was Dr. Hardy Limebeck, BSc, PhD, DDS, researcher, practicing dentist and Head of Preventive Dentistry, University of Toronto, who we featured on the cover of the ConneXion in July, 2000. He was brought down from Canada through the contributions of many concerned citizens. Further opposition to the bill on health and environmental grounds came from the likes of Jeff Green, Director of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, Ann Durrant, DC, Vice President, Oregon Doctors of Chiropractic, Eric Dover, MD, family physician, member Physicians for Social Responsibility, Paul Engelking, PhD, professor of chemistry, University of Oregon, Mary O'Brien, Ecosystem Projects Director, Science and Environmental Health Network. Many other environmental and citizen groups were represented as well.

A number of city and county officials felt that this should be a local decision, and were concerned about the cost implications. The City of Portland (in written testimony), commented on a long history of voting fluoridation down, while the director of the Eugene Water and Electricity Board opined that they needed to be providing quality water, not delivering medicinal substances. Opposing testimony outnumbered supporting testimony by about two to one.

The most surprising testimony came from democrat House representative Dr. Alan Bates, in a statement characterized both by honesty and a sense of puzzlement. Bates, a family physician from Eagle Point, said he would have liked to support SB 99, that certainly up until a few weeks ago he would have, but based on the documentation he has been reviewing, he is now having real doubts about fluoridation. He urged his fellow legislators to be cautious.

I asked Sen. Brown to comment on what evidence she based her support of this bill. The Senator ignored all evidence to the contrary and replied:

"I am supporting SB 99 because Fluoride is classified as an important element in human nutrition. Scientific evidence has shown that when Fluoride is introduced to non-fluoridated communities, it is highly effective in tooth decay prevention." She pointed to the "unqualified approval of every major health organization in the United States and many other countries." She particularly mentioned "the oral health needs of Oregon's poorest children," apparently unaware of the Public Health Service’s Toxicological Profile that states that it is precisely these children that are most at risk from fluoride poisoning.

Everyone involved in this debate is, no doubt, well-intentioned. Each side has its experts and scientific evidence, although much of the evidence against fluoridation has been willfully ignored or suppressed. Wherever one stands on this debate, one thing is clear - until the evidence opposing fluoridation can be shown to be baseless, it is insanity to push ahead with the bill in the face of the risks described by eminent scientists, dentists and physicians. The marginal benefit to the teeth of our children could be far more effectively achieved, at a fraction of the cost and with no adverse health or environmental consequences, through a state-funded program of topical fluoride application.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee must still decide whether to schedule the bill for a committee work session, so more action is likely to be needed. But, for the time being, we all owe Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, a warm vote of thanks, as this was an example of political activism at its best.

As Lynne Campbell said after the hearing, this was "truly a concerted effort. It is both heartwarming and exciting to feel the collective power we have to make a difference in protecting this most precious resource of ours -- our water."

If you would like more information on the issues involved, go to the OCSDW site: