City of Woodland debating fluoridated water

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The Woodland City Council chamber was more crowded than usual for a summer evening on July 15 as citizens offered their thoughts about having fluoride in the city water supply. At the end of the night, the council members voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on Mon., Aug. 19 to consider both keeping and removing fluoride from the Woodland water system.

“I don’t want to focus on the negatives, so let’s talk about questions we can agree on. Does having fluoride in the water prevent cavities?” said Tal Jensen. “There is a wide variety of reports and the data isn’t specific enough. Another question is does it prevent cavities on my lawn, in my laundry, in my toilet or for my houseplants?”

“Fluoride is harmful to human beings when it’s ingested and we drink more of it in our tap water in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world combined,” said Bryce Phelps. “I know there’s some support of it in the city, but the facts are no one drinks the tap water here because it’s disgusting. Drinking fountains are all but gone and people have better options to use fluoride if they choose to.”

“Not only do we use all the fluoride we manufacture in this country, but we import more from China to meet demand,” said Lori Shang. “What we import isn’t screened as much as what we have here is so it includes lead, arsenic and other chemicals, then it’s added to the water supply and even put in our toothpaste and it’s dangerous.”

The council members took up the debate, with Al Swindell asking for a formal public hearing to get more citizen input before making a decision.

“In a situation like this, we should get as much from the people as we can,” Swindell said. “If that means we put off a decision for another month or so, I don’t think will matter. We’ve had fluoride in the water for the last 20-30 years and no one’s died of it yet. I’ve drank the water and I’m still here.”

Council Member Benjamin Fredricks agreed to the idea of a public hearing and delaying a vote, only under the condition that the council move quickly towards a final decision and have resolutions for both removing and keeping fluoride in the system prepared by the hearing.

“We need to have closure on this issue and given the public’s interest, I don’t believe this is something we can put off for a later date,” said Fredricks.

Council Member Susan Humbyrd was critical of Fredricks’s request, saying once the public hearing takes place, she and other council members may want additional time to process all the data and reach the most informed decision.

“I’m not sure doing it all in one shot is the best way to go about it. It might be better to push back the vote to the following week so we’ve all had a chance to consider what everyone says and what alternatives might be available,” Humbyrd said.

Mayor Grover Laseke, while not able to vote on the matter, advised the council members that they have scheduled workshops throughout the summer and fall which would provide opportunities for further discussion and investigation of the matter. Council Member Marilee McCall pointed out that with the need to start working on the 2014 city budget rapidly approaching in the fall, it would be better to make a decision sooner rather than later.

“Looking at the calendar and the timeline, when you consider all the budget presentations and other items we’re going to deal with, we might not have time to come back and revisit this,” McCall said. “Let’s get it out of the way now, before the budget is decided, because if we choose to end the program, that also opens up available funds we’re not spending and can otherwise allocate to areas that need it.”

Swindell agreed with Humbyrd that the practical option is not to vote the same day as the hearing, while conceding that there is a limited window to make a decision.

“We’re supposed to be a deliberative body and should consider the available information before we vote,” said Swindell. “I don’t think it’s a better option to hammer it through in one night.”

With the unanimous vote in favor of the public hearing, Humbyrd said it will be on all Woodland citizens to come before the council and give them a clear message on what they want.

“I know what I know, but I want to hear what the people have to say, good or bad, before I make a definite decision.” Humbyrd said.

The public hearing on fluoridation in the Woodland water system will take place at the beginning of the Woodland City Council’s meeting on Mon., Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. Any citizen looking to address the council is asked to arrive before the meeting begins and read the council’s rules of decorum on the city’s website, www.ci.woodland.wa.us/government/city-council.

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