It wasn’t surprising that the Wichita City Council opted to put water fluoridation to a public vote. The safest path for an elected official is to let the public decide a contentious issue.
And there is a fair argument that because water affects everyone, unlike many issues before the council, the public should have the final say.
The council was forced to take action because a pro-fluoride group gathered more than 11,000 signatures on a petition. That presented the council with two choices: approve fluoridation or put it on the ballot.
Vice Mayor Janet Miller strongly advocated for the council to approve fluoridation. But after it was clear that the council majority didn’t support that, Miller made the motion for a public vote, which the members approved unanimously.
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Now the issue is set for the Nov. 6 general election. And now the debate can really get going.
The pro-fluoride side is led by dentists, physicians and health groups. They point to more than 65 years of experience and numerous studies showing that fluoridation is safe and effective. Fluoridation also is endorsed by the past five U.S. surgeons general and by leading health organizations – including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cited fluoridated water as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.
Wichita already has some naturally occurring fluoride in its water. The doctors estimate that raising the fluoride to the optimal level will save Wichitans at least $4.5 million a year in dental costs and contribute to overall improved health.
Those opposing fluoridation are concerned about possible negative health effects. They also believe that the government shouldn’t “mass medicate” through the water supply.
The challenge for voters will be sorting through the competing claims. Though many of those opposed to fluoride are serious and careful, there are some – including a group that made robocalls – that try to scare people with claims not backed by reputable science.
The Eagle editorial board supports fluoridation, a benefit enjoyed by 74 percent of Americans and 65 percent of Kansans supplied by public water systems. Wichita is the fourth-largest city in the country without fluoridation, and it is long past time that its citizens share in this health advancement.
But voters will make the final decision. Though they voted down fluoridation in 1964 and 1978, the public seems more supportive now. The latest SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, found that 62 percent of those surveyed support adding fluoride to the water, while 31 percent are opposed.
But as with any election, which side wins will depend on who votes. So be sure to vote Nov. 6 for fluoridation.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee