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Fluoride: A non-issue in City Council primary race

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This is the third installment in a series of stories presenting the views of City Council candidates.



By CRAIG FOX

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fluoride.

It’s the issue that the six Watertown City Council candidates no longer want to talk about.

For weeks, a growing number of people belonging to an anti-fluoride group lobbied the council to rid the city’s water supply of the of tasteless, colorless chemical.

The group recently stopped going to council meetings. As its presence waned, so has the issue.

It apparently has not riled up a major population of city water users who cannot even vote on the people who will decide the issue — the city’s fluoridated water goes to 60,000 people, including residents of Fort Drum and the towns of Watertown, LeRay, Pamelia, Champion and “a little piece of Rutland,” according to water superintendent Michael J. Sligar.

None of the six candidates — even a vocal fluoride opponent and a strong supporter of like-minded people who have appeared before the council — believes that eliminating fluoride from city water will come to a vote before the election.

And it’s only when the candidates were pressed that they agreed to talk about fluoride.

Incumbents Jeffrey M. Smith and Teresa R. Macaluso and candidate Cody J. Horbacz all say they have not decided on how they would vote. Rodney J. LaFave said he supports it and believes most people do.

“It’s on the back burner,” because jobs and other issues are more pressing, said Jasmine W. Borreggine, the candidate who began the debate last November.

Fluoride seemingly is not on the minds of many voters. Few people bring up the issue while the candidates have been out campaigning, the six said.

While going from door to door, candidate Stephen A. Jennings, who supports fluoride and serves as Jefferson County public health planner and public information officer, said only one resident mentioned it to him.

Both Mrs. Borreggine and Mr. Jennings insisted they are not one-issue candidates who decided to run solely because of their stances on fluoride. They said they have been interested in city government and council issues for quite some time and have been thinking about running for a couple of years.

But make no mistake, the two definitely are on the opposing sides of the issue.

Mrs. Borreggine cited a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that advises against the use of mixing fluoride with baby formula.

According to the CDC, recent evidence suggests that mixing powdered or liquid infant formula concentrate with fluoridated water on a regular basis may increase the chance of a child developing faint, white markings of mild enamel fluorosis.

Dental fluorosis, the mild discolouration of teeth enamel, is caused by excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride during tooth development.

Mrs. Borreggine also does not like the government deciding to mass-medicate residents without their permission. The city has been putting fluoride in the water supply since 1962.

“I’m for limited government,” she said. “I don’t think it’s for City Council to decide without my two cents.”

Mr. Jennings, on the other hand, said all kinds of studies have proven fluoride is safe and helps fights tooth decay. It’s is a modest investment that reaches all children, even those who don’t receive dental care, he said.

Many communities across the country are going through the same debate, with the closest in Pulaski, where the village decided to end the program to save money, Mr. Jennings said.

Several weeks later, the debate began in Watertown after council members were asked to spend $73,195 for an equipment upgrade related to putting fluoride in the municipal water supply. Mrs. Borreggine heard about that and spoke at a council meeting against the program.

Within weeks, other fluoride opponents joined her. They soon organized a group and began lobbying the council to end the practice.

Some council members began to listen. At the time, Mr. Smith and Ms. Macaluso said they were leaning toward eliminating the fluoride program.

Mr. Smith continues to have questions about it, but has not made up his mind. The issue probably would come up again when council members have to approve purchasing more fluoride for the system, he said.

Ms. Macaluso said she does not expect any kind of vote for a year or two. That would give her more time to study the issue.

“I would probably vote to keep it in,” she said, adding that she welcomed the discussion and letting opponents bring up their concerns.

Mrs. Borreggine said she would like to see the issue come up for a public ballot next year, so that “everyone has a say, and not just five council members.”

But Mr. LaFave said he has not seen “any credible evidence” to make him believe that Watertown should not have a fluoride program. And, he said, he believes the city handles its program safely.

Mr. Horbacz said that he needs more information to make a decision and that he will continue to study the issue.

“I don’t have a hard standpoint at this point, but maybe it’s no longer needed,” he said.

The top four vote-getters in the primary Sept. 10 will move on to the general election Nov. 5. Two will be elected to four-year terms. Elected offices in the city are nonpartisan; any registered voter may participate in the primary.

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