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City of Phoenix opts to continue water fluoridation

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PHOENIX – An effort to get the nation’s sixth-largest city to stop adding fluoride to water reached a dead end Tuesday.

After hearing from both sides, the City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee decided not to refer the matter to the full Council.

During a two-hour hearing, opponents argued that fluoride can discolor teeth, interfere with thyroid function and harm brain development and IQ. Meanwhile, they said, fluoride is available in toothpaste and certain foods and beverages as well as used in dental checkups.

Jody Clute, said her doctor recommended avoiding fluoride after she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

“You’re telling me to listen to you over my endocrinologist,” she testified after the panel’s decision. “Councilman, what reasonable person would listen to their council member over their endocrinologist?”

Like most large cities across the country, Phoenix adds fluoride to its drinking water, paying about $582,000 a year to add the compound.

Dr. Sara Bode, a pediatrician with Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said fluoridation is especially important for low-income families that don’t have access to regular dental treatment.

“To assume that by taking fluoride out of the water we can replace that with early, often, adequate dental care to use top, expensive, topical fluoride treatments, it’s not a realistic goal and we don’t see that in the population of our kids in Phoenix,” she said.

Councilwoman Thelda Williams, who voted in 1989 to fluoridate city water, reaffirmed her decision, saying she believes the benefits of fluoride outweigh the concerns.

“I just feel very strongly that I think what we’re doing is the right thing to do. I think public health is the responsibility of government,” Williams said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called water fluoridation one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Fluoridating water supplies can reduce cavities by 20 to 40 percent, according to the American Dental Association.

“There’s a long track record in history about the safety and efficacy of fluoride,” said Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “It’s safe and it saves money and it works.”

But J. William Hirzy, a chemistry professor at American University, said fluoride can cause health problems.

He pointed to evidence that too much fluoride can cause a discoloration of tooth enamel known as fluorosis. While fluoridation advocates say fluorosis isn’t harmful and is primarily a cosmetic issue, Hirzy said that the fluoride might have other effects on the body, including harming thyroid function and brain development.

“There’s so much fluoride in the environment now, that exposures are uncontrolled,” Hirzy said. “And the easiest way to bring those exposures under control is to turn off fluoride at the water treatment plant.”