February 4, 2008
City Won’t Add Fluoride to Water Despite State Law
Despite a state law passed more than a decade ago requiring communities to fluoridate their tap water, Livermore remains the largest city in the East Bay that doesn't use the additive.
It has nothing to do with still-alive-and-kicking conspiracy theories or even the cost of fluoridating -- at least directly.
Councilman John Marchand, who used to serve on the Zone 7 water board and works as a chemist for the Alameda County Water District, said the reason Livermore doesn't fluoridate is because residents never wanted to.
"Most communities in the Bay Area put it on the ballot and voted for it," he said.
Livermore weighed in on the matter twice during the 1950s. Both times, voters opted to eschew the treatment.
Since then, it just hasn't come up, Marchand said.
In addition to Livermore, Brentwood and Bay Point are fluoride-free. All other Contra Costa and Alameda county communities use it.
The 1995 law requiring fluoridation stipulates that cities with more than 10,000 water connections -- or about 25,000 people -- add the element if it is financially feasible.
While national estimates hold that the cost of such a change would amount to about 50 cents a person per year in Livermore, Marchand said that it would nevertheless require additional city staff that could be used to do other things.
"Once you start fluoridating, you have to put the monitoring programs in place," he said. "And there are hazards involved. Fluoride in the water is not
hazardous (under normal circumstances), but it is when in its concentrated form."
And besides, Marchand said, water isn't the only source of fluoride, and not the most effective way to get it.
"It's a topical treatment, and there are all kinds of toothpastes and mouth rinses out there that contain fluoride," he said.
Merit still debated
While some studies have suggested detrimental effects of fluoride, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health groups maintain that it is safe.
And Howard Pollick of the UC San Francisco school of dentistry said there remains a need for it in tap water.
"It's still very necessary," he said. "We just saw some results from the Central Valley where 86 percent of adults are in desperate need of dental treatment. There are very severe disparities in oral health in California and a very high level of dental disease."
But some people say otherwise. Many Web sites link fluoride to problems with teeth, bones, the brain and the thyroid gland.
With a large amount of exposure, it causes fluorosis, a discoloration of the teeth. It was the brown yet cavity-free smiles of Pikes Peak, Colo., that first got the naturally occurring element noticed in the early 20th century.
Since then, scientists have tweaked the amount of fluoride added to water to find a balance at 1 part per million -- less than what is found naturally in black tea, raisins and white wine.
Marchand said he sometimes fields calls from residents concerned about fluoride levels.
"I hear from people who tell me, 'There's fluoride in rat poison,'" Marchand said. "Well, there's chocolate in rat poison, too."
Marchand said some of the more radical suspicions were planted by Hollywood. In particular, that fluoride amounts to mass medication and mind control.
"Do you know where that comes from?" he said. "It's not from the 1950s, it's from 1964, a joke in Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr Strangelove' that was done tongue-in-cheek. But it got so ingrained that people remember the conspiracy but not where it's from."
Livermore residents most likely won't have to worry about that sort of thing in the near future.
While there is a program to get state funding for the process, Randy Warner of the city's public works department said Livermore is "way down on the list."
And the last vote, by 2,438 people in 1958, set a precedent the city abides by to this day, Warner said.
"Staff made it available, but the people didn't want it," he said. "It's difficult for city staff to do something that goes against what the public decided."