Question: Shall Portland fluoridate its water supply?
Summary: Portland supplies drinking water to city residents and businesses and to several other municipalities and water districts outside Portland. Portland currently does not add fluoride to its drinking water supply.
I rarely write about Portland politics. For one thing, political shenanigans here in Berkeley on the Willamette are generally pretty boring. When you’ve experienced Texas politics, as I have, the bar for political corruption, incompetence, and generalized silliness is set pretty high. As much as I love Portland, the local political scene ranks right up there, excitement-wise, with watching paint peel off my bedroom ceiling.
Every now and again, something comes along that reveals the truth that, beneath the wooly-headed Liberal exterior that seems to be the national perception of Portland, there’s a thoroughly reactionary, science-denying, Big Government-fearing wingnut community…and it’s quite entertaining. This reality has come to light in the campaign over the upcoming referendum- Measure 26-151- on whether Portland should fluoridate its water supply. You might be wondering what all the fuss is about, but Portland’s the largest metropolitan area in the country without a fluoridated water supply. People in most cities take fluoride for granted; indeed most probably aren’t even aware their water is fluoridated or that other chemicals are added to the water they drink.
Portland has always been something of an outlier when it comes to drinking water. Puddletown’s outdoor reservoirs are among the largest in the nation, which can lead to all sorts of fun. No one gets too wigged out the occasional bird dropping (hey, these things happen, right?). Last year, though, someone climbed a fence at one of the reservoirs and took a piss in it. This resulted in all manner of outrage and hand-wringing, so much so that the city drained, cleaned, and then refilled the reservoir. That the miscreant’s urine comprised approximately .00000043% (give or take) of the reservoir’s volume and thus completely harmless was beside the point.
SOMEONE PEED IN OUR DRINKING WATER!!!
Ah, but I digress….
The Multnomah County Voter’s Pamphlet, which normally reads in a way that leads one to think that writing is dead, is actually a rather interesting literary piece de resistance this time around.
Judging by the reactions of those who oppose 26-151, you could be forgiven for thinking that Portland was proposing a city-wide draft of military-age men and women who will then enforce the will of a heartless city government. Some see the ugly hand of Big Government; if they add fluoride today, what will they want to add tomorrow? How long before they surreptitiously control our minds through chemicals added to our drinking water? Some deny the science involved, holding forth that “We don’t know what these chemicals do to the body.” (Uh…actually, we do, but I’ll get to that.) Others decry the exposure of the young, the ill, and the medically fragile to chemicals (I’ll get to that as well.) There are those who claim fluoridation causes lower IDs in children, and that it’s linked to cancer (particularly bone cancer), organ, and tissue damage.
My favorite argument in opposition to fluoridation is “Individual scientists oppose fluoridation, therefore it must not be safe.” Uh, OK…don’t hurt yourself tossing those facts around, eh??
I’ll betray my allegiance here, in case anyone cares and/or hasn’t figured it out by now. I support 26-151, and for a very simple reason: something like 3000 studies over the past 60 years have almost uniformly shown fluoridation to be safe AND effective in reducing cavities, particularly in children. While I sympathize with and understand the opposition’s reasoning, it’s based largely on emotion and things they wish were true…but aren’t.
We do, in fact, know what fluoride does to the body. In the minute amounts that will be added to Portland’s drinking water, the answer is, “nothing.” Yes, there may be the odd medically fragile person out there who could be adversely impacted, but for the vast majority of Portlanders, they will experience no ill effects whatsoever. Fluoridation exposure is a non-issue. If it was otherwise, do you really think every other major metropolitan area would be fluoridating their water?
The truth, which many who oppose 26-151 conveniently blow past, if they acknowledge it all, is that Portland, like every other city, already adds several chemicals to its drinking water supply. How do you think it safely gets from the source to your tap? If your argument is based on a fear of chemicals in our drinking water, you’ve already lost.
Unfortunately, I think 26-151 will be defeated, thanks to a lot of fear-mongering and misinformation presented by the “NO on 26-151” folks. I would never have thought that disinformation and propaganda would flourish here in Portland, but this place continually surprises me. As often happens in politics, truth was the first casualty. It doesn’t matter that dental professional organizations support fluoridation. Sixty years of studies don’t matter. The fact that the dental health of our children ranks significantly below cities like Seattle isn’t worth considering, because 26-151’s opponents minds have clanged shut like an industrial grade mouse trap.
Would that the denizens of Puddletown could get so exercised about something that actually matters- like the precarious funding situation of Portland’s public schools, f’rinstance.