Reactions to the Portland Vote

Posted & filed under Fluoride in the News.

Earlier this week, voters in Portland, Oregon rejected a proposal to begin fluoridating the city’s drinking water. Fluoride exists naturally in drinking water but usually not at the level proven to reduce the rate of tooth decay. The city council had voted unanimously to begin fluoridation, but a group of opponents circulated a variety of unfounded fears to successfully defeat the plan in a referendum. Portland is the largest city of its size without fluoridated water. Here are samples of the reaction to Portland’s vote:

“It’s the fourth time Portland has rejected the public health measure since 1956. It’s the fourth time they’ve gotten the science wrong.  … When new medical treatments are implemented, when new drugs are introduced into the populace, there is always some hesitation. There are (hopefully) some clinical trials to back up the new intervention, but the long-term implications are often unclear. Water fluoridation doesn’t have this problem. For over 65 years, it has been rigorously tested as a public health measure, and considered one of the most successful measures of the last 100 years …”

Scientific American

“Oregon is ranked the 5th worst state for tooth decay, and on Wednesday voters of Portland may have missed an opportunity to change that. A measure to add fluoride to the city’s tap water — which the city council previously approved in an unanimous decision — was [defeated] … They may not want to join the bandwagon, but here’s one clear reason why the municipality may come to regret the decision: The CDC estimates that fluoridation saves a community of 20,000 or more about $19 per person, per year. In a city the size of Portland, that’s around $11.3 million a year.

National Journal

“Oregon has one of the highest rates of tooth decay in the nation, and yet, the state’s biggest city will remain an outlier, thanks to the remarkable efforts of the anti-fluoride lobby, a non-partisan alliance of paranoiacs.  … Relying on a handful of inapplicable research studies and the testimony of dubious experts, the anti-fluoridians have managedto keep scientific reality at bay.”

The Atlantic

“… the anti-fluoride group talks about fluoride as a chemical. It is not a chemical. It is an element. If you want to name the element ‘fluoride’ as a chemical, you must also name the elements in water, oxygen and hydrogen, as ‘chemicals.’ “

Eric Walsh, professor of family medicine and hematology, Oregon Health & Science University

“… fluoridation protects, rather than harms, public health.  … I want to take a moment to further discuss – or perhaps I mean debunk – the notion that anti-fluoride groups are heroically battling some evil industrial compound. Because what they are really battling is compounds that derive from the naturally occurring element fluorine (F).”

– Deborah Blum, Wired (Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer)

The anti-fluoride group Clean Water Portland cited “a National Science Foundation study from June 2012 that showed that 43 percent of ‘fluoride products’ contain trace elements of arsenic, 2 percent contain similar proportions of lead, and 2 percent copper. However, what Clean Water Portland does not say is that the report finds that the amounts of heavy metals found in these samples are so minuscule as to be completely innocuous; none come remotely close to the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Levels. Similar flaws can be found with Clean Water Portland’s analysis of many of the studies that supposedly support their cause.”


“… the anti-fluoride crowd took science to task and decided it knew better than the majority of experts who say that fluoridated water is beneficial for communities and has been a raging success.  … For some, fluoride in water is the only preventive dental care ever received. By shooting down the city’s plan, voters missed the opportunity to cost-effectively help the underprivileged, decrease overall dental costs and improve health outcomes.”

Elizabeth Hovde, columnist for The Oregonian

“… I’m hard pressed to find [Portland opponents] referring to anything but ‘fluoridation chemicals’ rather that fluoride or fluoridation. It’s repeated so often that it’s jarring to me and clearly meant to play on people’s fear of chemicals rather than on reason or evidence.  … the antifluoride forces were playing on the public’s fear of chemicals and misunderstanding of chemistry to make fluoridation seem a lot more scary than it is. (Actually, it’s not scary at all.) As always, the dose makes the poison, and the levels used in municipal water supplies have a long history of safety.”

– ScienceBlogs

“Fluoride opponents in Portland frequently suggested the city’s healthcare system should just be ‘fixed’ so that everyone gets perfect and equal dental care, rendering fluoride unnecessary. This would be great, but it’s a world that will never exist. That large numbers of Portlanders apparently believe a widely-accepted public health measure to fill in the gaps of our imperfect healthcare system is a horrific affront to personal liberty says a lot about the city’s disconnect from the real world …”