City Officials Learn the Hard Way about Fluoridation
City council members, water board commissioners and other elected officials have a tough task when someone brings the issue of water fluoridation to their attention. This topic has been researched for more than 70 years, and thousands of studies have been conducted on fluoride or fluoridation. Figuring out which studies and statistics are credible and relevant is not easy. Opponents of fluoridation take advantage of this situation.
Local officials frequently lack the time or staff to help them determine whether a critic of fluoride has cherry-picked a sentence or quoted a researcher out of context. At times, this gap of knowledge can lead local officials to cast votes that are well-intentioned but unwise. And some of these local leaders come to regret their decision.
Al Maghnieh is one example. He used to be a city councilor in the Canadian city of Windsor—just across the bridge from Detroit. This spring, Maghnieh wrote a newspaper column expressing regret for having voted with a majority in January 2013 to end fluoridation in Windsor. In doing so, Maghnieh wrote that he and seven others “voted against the pleas of some of the most qualified academic, scientific and medical professionals in the country.”
Looking back over his tenure as a city councilor, Maghnieh wrote that his anti-fluoridation vote was “one vote I’d like to take back . . . It was a council decision that should not have been made.”
In 2011, the board of commissioners in one of Florida’s largest counties voted to end water fluoridation. It took a few years before a newly elected board voted to resume fluoridation in Pinellas County. Karen Williams Seel, a Pinellas County commissioner, wrote a blog post that reflected on Pinellas County’s experience and called the board’s original vote misguided.
“When voters get confused about an issue, it’s usually because someone has misinformed them — either by error or by design. Public officials have a responsibility to listen to their constituents,” Seel observed. “We also have a duty to not allow false fear to drive public health decisions . . . (and we) shouldn’t let ‘guess what I read on the internet’ be the reason that we abandon a proven, safe practice like water fluoridation.”
Maghnieh summed up the Windsor council’s vote this way: “We made a political decision, as opposed to an evidence-based decision. And on a matter of human health of all things. That was wrong.”