Discussion on Fluoride, Landfill Doesn’t Lead to Action

After a long meeting of Wilmington City Council, no action was taken on the two major topics of the night-fluoridation of the water supply and paying for the potential expansion of the landfill. Both issues have been ongoing discussions, with fluoride appearing on the ballot in an advisory election in November.

The Wilmington Landfill, owned and operated by the City of Wilmington, is growing at a rate that will force the city to expand it in around five years. Because of this, the City has worked on a plan to fund the expansion. The main ways to meet this financial need would be to raise rates, borrow the money, or do a hybrid of the two. During the meeting, Third Ward City Council Representative Joe Spicer, who is the chair of the Solid Waste Committee, spoke about the process. Mr. Spicer focused on the need to be proactive so rates did not have to be raised drastically in the future, but could instead be raised slowly and only as necessary. He discussed wanting to avoid the water rate increase that residents saw recently, as well as the three dollar increase to trash rates that Council had discussed last year. The plan that Mr. Spicer put forth was to increase rates fifty cents per month for a residence and one dollar per month for commercial customers. This, he emphasized, would not pay for the entire project, but would allow the city to borrow less money for the project in the future. Mayor John Stanforth then read aloud a note from the City Auditor’s office, which discussed some of the funding options. The Auditor’s office recommended waiting until 2019 and issue a note then for the full amount of the cost of the project. Mayor Stanforth emphasized that he believes that there is no need to raise rates now. Complicating matters is the recent resignation of Sanitation Department Supervisor Braden Dunham, which is a blow to a department that has a major automation process in the works to add to the discussion about landfill expansion.

After substantial discussion, Council decided to table the issue until the new Sanitation Department Superintendent is hired and is able to look at the finances and plans for the landfill. There was significant disagreement between the administration, council, City Treasurer Paul Fear, and the City Auditor’s office. Frustration boiled over for many who have been in the city government for a few years because of the lack of forward movement or solidification of a plan. Councilman Spicer has asked the administration to have a plan by May, so it appears that the discussion will be taken up again then.

During the Water Committee reports, Councilwoman Kelsey Swindler reported out on a “preliminary opinion of probable cost” and engineering report from Strand, who has been working on the report since after the first reading of the ordinance to fluoridate the water supply. There were two main points in the report that caused Swindler to ask to table the third reading of the ordinance to fluoridate the public water system. Ms. Swindler reported that the initial capital costs, according to the report, would be roughly $315,000 and the Ohio Department of Health would not be able to cover nearly that. Since Council got the report yesterday, Ms. Swindler decided to give them time to read over and respond to it, and to allow the administration to look at more potential funding sources before deciding on a way to move forward. Previously, some of the members of council expressed concern about the potential costs, so this seems like a solid move. Now, council will have to decide how to move forward knowing that the people voted to fluoridate the water system. Hopefully, some positive news will come from the administration’s search for new funding sources, and the City of Wilmington can finally join most other municipalities in Ohio and fluoridate its public water system.

One important piece to watch on Council is to see whether there is any movement on these issues over the coming months. Mr. Spicer and Ms. Swindler have made it clear that they will continue to pursue a resolution to the two major issues discussed at council. However, at a time where not spending money is the rallying cry for many on Council, will they be able to find allies as they work towards the future? The next few months will be a vital time for both of those issues, and will show the true willingness to problem-solve by members of council and the administration.

City Council has First Reading on Fluoride Ordinance

City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance to mandate that city water be fluoridated. This vote came after an advisory election, which passed 57% to 43%. This first reading will (hopefully) be the first of three readings, and will allow Safety and Service Director Brian Shidaker to work with an engineer to get an estimate on costs for the implementation of a fluoride program.

For anyone that reads this blog with consistency, I have (and continue to be) supportive of adding fluoride into the public water supply. The voters showed up on election day and told council, by a 14% margin, that they want fluoride in the city’s water system. So how, after supporting the move to go to the voters, did two council members still vote against a FIRST reading on this ordinance?

One council member, Lonnie Stuckert, has embarrassed himself throughout this whole process. He continued to do so with his behavior and statements on Thursday night. The week before the election, he wrote a letter to the editor that would have been bad anyway, but was made worse by his position on city council. He showed that he is more willing to listen to conspiracists and bloggers rather than the CDC and other public health organizations. This was in stark contrast to the pro-fluoride letters from a variety of physicians, dentists, and public health professionals in Wilmington. He doubled down on many of those statements Thursday night, which included him insinuating that Council member Kelsey Swindler was unethical and that those of us that voted for the fluoride measure were misinformed.

One statement from Mr. Stuckert that stood out to me was when he said the Society for Toxicology had said that fluoride was as bad as lead. This was shocking to many in the audience, and I immediately took to Google. I couldn’t find anything that indicated they had an official position on this, other than that their website still has educational materials that were pro-fluoride. I believe, although I am not certain, that Mr. Stuckert found an article from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which is cited frequently in the anti-fluoride literature as stating that the Society for Toxicology has come out against fluoride. A long search of their website did not lead me to finding anything of the sort. I did, however, find that the Journal has advocated such positions as linking vaccines with autism, saying HIV does not cause AIDS, and linking abortion and breast cancer, among a much broader list of scientifically unfounded and discredited claims.

So what do with a council member who refuses to represent his ward, but instead himself? With someone who has become so contrarian as to get personal with his fellow members of council, and say that voters who disagreed with him (the majority) have basically been duped? Who, in part, must blame the local medical professionals who have supported fluoride as part of this conspiracy to mislead the voters? I believe the voters in the 2nd Ward will know what to do if, hopefully, he sees challengers in next year’s election. He has shown that he is not interested in representing the most vulnerable residents of his ward–children who have difficulty accessing medical care, but instead wants to represent the bloggers and questionable science. We cannot afford to have someone who neglects to represent their ward like Mr. Stuckert.

This Week in Council-5/2-5/6

Finance Committee

Finance Committee is, at this moment, the most important and temporarily powerful body in the city. It has also shown itself to be the most inept. This week’s meeting may have been the most disappointing, with the committee rehashing the same discussion they have had for the last four months, with almost no progress. Here are some highlights:

  • Finance Committee spent almost the entire 30 minute meeting discussing what kind of special meeting to have. Chairman Mark McKay started the meeting by requesting a special Finance Committee meeting next week because he wanted to make sure they could spend enough time on the issue and that it was the only thing on the agenda. This appears to be a stall tactic. There were only a couple of other small, quick agenda items that took less than ten minutes before they got to the budget discussion.
  • President of Council Randy Riley essentially took over the meeting, pushing for a whole group special council meeting next Thursday to discuss the budget. He openly advocated towards coercing members of council to not take any vote or make any motions towards a vote on anything regarding the budget.
  • Eventually, a workshop was decided upon, with the administration presenting expenses of the city. Does Finance Committee not have that information? Did they not pass the budget?
  • Nathan Kraatz, reporter for the Wilmington News Journal, asked Finance Committee if they wanted the administration to present 15% in cuts that would need to happen to balance the budget. Chairperson McKay first asked where this number came from and then requested that it happen; subsequently, the administration said they would not be able to pull that off. City resident Mark Rembert asked why finance committee would not be recommending that. There was no real answer. There was also no statement as to why Finance Committee hasn’t taken any actions on the numbers it got almost two months ago from the administration as to potential cuts.

So what will happen at next week’s council “workshop?” It certainly sounds like this is not the public forum that Finance Committee was hoping for at the beginning of the year, but is more of an education for City Council itself about the budget. Finance Committee is under the gun to take action, but Chairperson McKay seems to think they are ahead of the game because it is only May. I hope that Thursday’s workshop will give Council and the Finance Committee enough information to act, but after this last Finance Committee meeting, I am skeptical.

Judiciary Committee

One item that I have purposely not written about here is the matter of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau funding. The reason I haven’t is because, for some reason, this funding has been tied to the Parks and Recreation Department, where my mother is the director. However, I wanted to give a quick overview of what happened at the meeting. I want to state, firmly, that I do not believe this money should be tied into parks in any way. I believe that this is about making sure General Fund monies are being spent wisely.

The CVB, through Executive Director Debbie Stamper, released a statement on the potential for losing some funding. In it, she said that the hotel lodging tax was “not public money.” She reiterated most of this at the meeting, but backtracked a little. Councilman Matt Purkey and Mayor John Stanforth were quick to say that this was wrong. The CVB argues that this money only comes from transient guests, and that it should be spent on these purposes. In the letter to Council, the CVB took the bold stance of telling Council how to spend its tax money, specifying that any money that the City withholds from the CVB should be spent to improve the City parks to attract tournaments (essentially, to increase the amount of revenue from lodging taxes).

Judiciary, especially Councilman Purkey, did an exceptional job of trying to separate the issue from Parks and make it about tightening up. Purkey pointed out the CVB Christmas cards as an example (I could point to many more, including a party for local people) of waste by the CVB. I could not agree more that there is bloat in the organization. The CVB has avoided much of this for years, but it seems that now might be the time when there is political will to make sure that General Fund monies are being spent in an appropriate and closely-watched manner.

City Council meeting

City Council was highlighted by the community fluoridation public forum. I will be doing a podcast on this, and encourage you to listen to that. It was certainly a good discussion, with both sides presenting arguments without getting nasty or angry. I believe that all of the concerns brought up, from the effect on kidneys to skeletal and dental fluorosis, were well handled by the physicians and dentist that were present. It is important for us to remember that many of these debates are taking place between people for whom these efforts will have minimal benefit-generally, adults that can afford dental coverage. This is sometimes ignored as we look at the benefits of fluoridation, unfortunately, but it must be an important part of the consideration if the issue moves to a vote.

After the public forum, the rest of the meeting went by without much discussion, save for the repeal of the G-1 Gateway Zone. This was met mostly without opposition, except for Mayor Stanforth. The mayor, who has indicated that he supports simplifying zoning in Wilmington, wondered if there would be an impetus to do so if the G-1 was repealed. In my opinion, the mayor makes a good point in that the city has lost some of its bargaining power with those that said they opposed the G-1. Zoning seems to be an important issue for many on City Council, and the Judiciary Committee has promised a Zoning Task Force to lead the way in zoning changes. This is a great start as we move towards a comprehensive zoning plan for the city.

Final thoughts

It was an exciting week of Council and Committee meetings. Action was taken on the G-1, while intense discussions were had about fluoridation and CVB funding. I am eagerly awaiting next Thursday’s Council budget workshop to see what information is presented and how discussions go. If you are passionate about Council pursuing a certain revenue source, I hope you will come and make your voice heard.

It’s Time for Wilmington to Fluoridate its Water

A common hoax that often manifests itself as a pop psychology “experiment” on fear, gullibility, and a lack of scientific literacy involves the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. Hoax victims are often warned of the dangers of this very common chemical: it is a main component of acid rain;can be dangerous in gaseous, liquid, and solid form; it contributes to erosion and rusting; and it is often found in excised tumors from cancer patients. Despite these dangers, the hoax warns, we all ingest or come into contact with this chemical every day. It is then revealed that dihydrogen monoxide is, of course, water.

I bring this point up to illustrate an issue that has been happening in the fluoride debate across the country. Anti-fluoride advocates prey on the fears that many people have of “unnatural” chemicals in what we consume. Instead of focusing on legitimate science, these advocates will often cherry-pick certain studies (there is one in particular that I will focus on below) in order to show that fluoride is dangerous. I will agree on one point with these advocates-fluoride, at certain high levels, definitely has negative health benefits. However, an overview of the scientific literature clearly shows that fluoride in a water system can have positive health benefits, especially in places where people lack access to proper dental care.

What professional organizations say…

American Association of Pediatrics“Water fluoridation continues to be one of the most important tools in our toolbox to prevent tooth decay in children and adults.” Support the US Department of Health and Human Services recommendation of 0.7mg/L to help with dental caries while limiting the risk of dental fluorosis.

Centers for Disease ControlThe Centers for Disease Control named water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 21st century. The CDC has statements on the science of fluoridation as well as the economic impact of water fluoridation on communities.

American Dental AssociationThe ADA quotes scientific research that water fluoridation holds greatest promise in preventing childhood dental caries in its recommendation that communities pursue water fluoridation.

US Department of Health and Human ServicesThe US Department of Public Health recommends fluoridation to the 0.7mg/L level, which it recently changed from 0.7-1.2mg/L. They say that even though there has been an increase in availability of fluoride in dental products, they do still recommend that communities fluoridate their water to that level (which is also recommended to decrease risk of dental fluorosis).

The recent study that anti-fluoride advocates quote, and why you don’t need to worry about it…

In 2012, Harvard scientists wrote an article entitled “Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Published in a well-regarded journal, the article gained popularity thanks to a write-up on the Huffington Post (which has a strained relationship with good science) by Dr. Joseph Mercola (a favorite target of legitimate science writers and skeptics).

The article is an analysis of studies done mostly in rural mining communities in China. This is one of many problems from the article, and here are some others that I have gleaned from a variety of scientists who have written in response to the study:

  • The studies examined looked at places with significant naturally occurring fluoride levels, higher than when it is put into the water supply
  • The authors did not have complete information on the studies, so they were not replicable
  • The studies did not have much in the way of compounding variables, i.e. education

The authors of the Harvard study itself admit to many of the flaws of the study, including that many of the studies they looked at were flawed and that their meta-analysis brought questions to light, but did not necessarily provide specific answers beyond saying that high levels of fluoride were potentially hazardous to neurological development. Unfortunately, many of the anti-fluoridation advocates were duped by people like Dr. Mercola, who was given a loudspeaker by the Huffington Post where he chose to further his alternative medicine agenda instead of writing an objective article about what the study said and its limitations.

A brief history water fluoridation in Wilmington…

In 1969, the State of Ohio passed a law requiring fluoridation of water supplies for municipalities of 5,000 people or more. In 1970, thirty communities (including Wilmington) voted to exempt themselves from this law. Currently, Wilmington is joined by twenty-one other communities in the state of Ohio in not fluoridating its water.

Since then, the issue has come up a few other times in Wilmington. In 1986, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a story about the debate in council. Council members at the time appeared to favor it, but in the debate various illnesses and developmental issues were (wrongly) linked to fluoride treatment. David Hockaday, a city council member at the time who is still fighting against fluoride, was quoted as saying he had textbooks and research to look at the downside of water fluoridation. As anyone reading this knows, nothing ended up happening at the time regarding water fluoridation.

The current plan and the current debate…

The current plan, according to Water Committee Chairperson Kelsey Swindler, has been developed with the recommendations from the US Depatment of Public Health and requirements from the Ohio Revised Code. The goal is to have the lowest effective fluoridation, recommended by the US Department of Public Health while still following Ohio law, which requires that communities fluoridate their water to 0.8mg/L. According to Swindler, City Water Superintendent Jerry Rowlands has estimated startup costs to be around $29,000. However, from grant money available from the Ohio Department of Health Oral Health Project, the city would likely be able to cover much of the start up money.

The current debate has been much quieter, potentially because there is so much more evidence out there that supports water fluoridation. Mr. Hockaday has continued some of his arguments from years ago, although less vociferously. There will inevitably be some out there who appeal to fear about chemicals in the water, which is an appeal to nature that is not backed up by good science.

My thoughts…

Now is the time to fluoridate our water. We have seen nearly one hundred years of science, almost all of it supporting fluoridation. The reports that haven’t have mostly warned about fluoridation in large quantities, which thanks to current technology can be controlled. As a city, we must encourage our city council members to ignore the clamoring of those loudly appealing to fears about the government trying to force chemicals into our bodies. We must help protect our most vulnerable children and adults, those that do not have access to appropriate care from damaging and harmful dental caries. It is time for Wilmington to join countless other communities who have worked to better public health and move forward with a community fluoridation plan.