Generations of Healdsburg residents have grown up with fluoride in their water.
But that could change, now that a group of activists has gathered sufficient signatures to put a measure on the ballot to try to get the city to stop fluoridating.
Healdsburg, which adds the compound to its water supply to fight tooth decay, has been doing so since 1952, when the practice was approved by city voters.
It’s the only city in Sonoma County to fluoridate its water, but activists have gathered more than enough signatures to ask voters to put an end to it.
City officials confirmed that “Fluoride Free Healdsburg” gathered 867 signatures certified as valid by the county Registrar of Voters, well over the approximate 600 needed — 10 percent of registered voters — to place an initiative on the ballot.
The City Council on Monday is scheduled to consider the matter.
“I’m not sure what we do, other than accept the petition. We accept the petition and it gets put on the ballot,” Mayor Jim Wood said.
The initiative, likely to go before voters in November, asks them to amend the city code to stop the fluoridation of municipal water.
Wood, a dentist, is a supporter of water fluoridation.
“I think it’s a tremendous public health benefit,” he said. “There is a lot of strong science to support that it is safe and it is effective.”
Fluoridation opponents, however, say that putting the substance into the water supply amounts to a form of mass medication.
“The truth that’s been found out about fluoride is it doesn’t actually work when ingested,” said Dawna Gallagher Strah, a former Rohnert Park City Council member who is fighting water fluoridation. “And there aren’t any safety studies on humans that say it is safe to ingest.”
Gallagher Strah also is hoping to stop a proposal by the Sonoma County Water Agency to begin fluoridating its water, which gets delivered to Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Windsor, Sonoma, Valley of the Moon and Marin County.
She said citizens should have a choice as to whether they want fluoride and is confident Healdsburg voters will agree and stop the practice, which gained momentum across the country after World War II. Fluoridation is conducted in water systems serving more than 200 million people in the United States.
Advocates for fluoridation say it is supported by established science.
Experts from health and scientific fields have provided strong evidence over the years that water fluoridation is safe and effective, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s also backed by the U.S. Surgeon General, World Health Organization, National Cancer Institute and American Dental Association, which has called it “the single most effective measure to prevent dental decay.”
Julie Kennedy, a Healdsburg resident who helped gather signatures to put the issue before voters, acknowledged dental health generally has improved in past decades, but she doesn’t attribute it to fluoridation.
“It’s also improved in Europe where they don’t fluoridate. I don’t think it has to do with fluoride. It’s education, better dental care, and nutrition,” she said.
She said people who want fluoride can get it via toothpaste, mouthwash or fluoride treatment at the dentist’s office.
Like other fluoride doubters, she noted that toothpaste tubes warn against swallowing too much toothpaste and if so, to seek medical attention, to avoid fluoride overdose.
Santa Rosa dentist Anthony Fernandez, a member of the Redwood Empire Dental Association who is a vocal proponent of fluoridation, said toothpaste has 1,000 times more concentrated fluoride than what is in drinking water.
“It’s an apple-and-oranges comparison,” he said.
He called fluoride opponents “public health terrorists” who use pseudo science to make it sound like a poison, even though fluoride naturally occurs in drinking water at slighter lower levels.
He said if fluoride is taken out of Healdsburg water, the rate of cavities will go up 25 to 30 percent because it bonds with teeth to make them more resistant to acid and decay.
Healdsburg officials say the city doses the water at less than one part per million of fluoride, and carefully monitors it to ensure it falls within state Department of Public Health guidelines.