Last month, the county's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to proceed with a study about injecting fluoride into the county's drinking water supply. But don't expect fluoride to appear in your tap water anytime soon, as the costs, logistics and even the politics of doing so are unclear.
Supervisor and former Petaluma City Councilman David Rabbitt, who supported the study saying he believes that adding fluoride to the local drinking supply would improve health in Sonoma County, doesn't expect to hear much on the issue again until a scientific analysis and feasibility study is completed and presented to the Board in January 2013.
"There will be no action on this by the board any time soon. Too many questions need to be answered, including how we add fluoride to the water and how the individual cities and agencies will pay for it," said Rabbitt.
"Fluoride is good for dental health, and oral health is important to overall health," said Rabbitt. "It's a cost effective means of improving the health of people. The Surgeon General has estimated that for every $30 spent on putting fluoride into local water supplies, we get back $38 in health benefits.
"Sixty-nine percent of counties in the United States fluoridate their water," Rabbitt added. "There is overwhelming scientific evidence from the World Health Organization and others that adding fluoride to the water improves health."
But fluoridating the public water supply can be expensive. Petaluma City Councilman Mike Healy, who represents Petaluma on the county Water Advisory Board, noted that a study done in 1997 said the cost back then of implementing fluoride into the drinking water was estimated to be as high as $1.1 million for the city of Petaluma alone.
"$1.1 million just for the capital costs and that did not include operating costs," noted Healy. "Plus there is the question of how we would add the fluoride. We can't just simply add it into the water supply at the Russian River. It would probably require adding it into specific pipe lines, such as the Petaluma aqueduct. How this would be done — where the fluoride would be measured out and stored — are questions we must answer."
Petaluma Mayor David Glass said he had doubts about the cost effectiveness of any such program.
"If the point of adding fluoride is to build better teeth, then this seems to be an overkill," said Glass. "Most of the water used in Petaluma is for agriculture and irrigation purposes. It seems to me there would be a more efficient way to get fluoride to people than through the water system. Why not just hand out fluoride tablets?"
Glass noted that many people do not even drink their water from the public water system anymore.
"What about the folks who get the Culligan Man or buy bottled water?" asked Glass. "They won't be drinking fluoride and so we will have spent a lot of money for very little benefit.
"Seems to me the government has lost track of its obligation to be efficient. I think there has to be a more economical way to improve health than this," said Glass.
(Contact E.A. Barrera at firstname.lastname@example.org)