Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Local groups are calling on officials to add the tooth-protector to public water supplies, citing poor dental health in kids.
Public water was first fluoridated in the 1940s. But though the program proved popular (today, two-thirds of Americans drink fluoride-enriched water), the idea has never quite shaken its sheen of controversy. Some see dental health, others see mind control.
Now, resistance from one of the country's biggest cities may be coming to an end.
The water system of Portland, Oregon, serves about 900,000 people, currently the largest fluoride-free system in the country. But pressure is building to jump on the fluoride bandwagon. According to a recent article from The Oregonian, a number of groups are lobbying the city and the Portland Water Bureau to change their policy. They're especially concerned about rising tooth decay issues, prevalent among Oregon's youth. According to the piece:
More than 35 percent of Oregon third-graders have untreated tooth decay, according to five-year-old CDC numbers. Compared to other states, which have different reporting periods, Oregon ranked fifth-worst.
The question has come before Portland voters three times (most recently in 1980), and three times they have voted it down. But now may be the best chance fluoridation proponents have to spike the city's water. The chief of the Portland Water Bureau, Commissioner Randy Leonard, has recently voiced support, calling it "a good idea."
But Leonard is also scheduled to leave office in less than five months, giving proponents a hard deadline on influencing politicians and bureaucrats to make the switch. The Oregonian article notes that Leonard would support an ordinance to allow city council to decide to fluoridate water without a vote of the people, so long as there's a public awareness campaign to promote the idea. A formal proposal could come before the Portland city council in the next few weeks.
Portland wouldn't be the only big city to change its mind on the great fluoride debate. This past November, commissioners in Pinellas County, Florida, voted to stop adding fluoride to the county's water supplies, de-enriching the water of more than 700,000 people. If Portland opts to go the other way, Pinellas County may be the next top-ranking place in the U.S. where fluoride and water don't mix.