Anti-fluoridation forces are objecting to a Sedgwick County Health Department fact sheet that they say is little more than a commercial urging Wichitans to vote yes when fluoridated water comes up for a public vote next month.
Mark Gietzen, president of the Kansas Republican Assembly, called the document “nothing more than an unethical, likely illegal, and blatantly political promotion of fluoridation, at public expense.”
Tim Norton, chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission, said he sees the flier as part of the Health Department’s ongoing mission to inform and educate the public on health issues, as it does with missives on topics such as vaccinations and nutrition.
He acknowledged there is opposition to fluoridation and to Health Department participation in the discussion. “I would think that people who have spent a lifetime working on public health issues might have a different viewpoint” than fluoridation opponents, Norton said.
Saying that he’s been blocked from addressing the commission in a timely fashion, Gietzen is encouraging fluoride opponents to attend Tuesday’s weekly meeting of the commission and the county staff.
It is unclear whether any of the commissioners will invite them to speak. But even a silent show of force would make an effective statement, Gietzen said.
The KRA, a staunchly conservative group within the Republican Party, is opposing an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot where Wichita voters will decide whether fluoride should be added to city drinking water.
The ballot measure has broad support among the city’s medical and dental providers, who say fluoride is perfectly safe in the concentrations typical of American drinking water and would reduce the incidence of tooth decay.
The county fact sheet noted that approximately three-fourths of Americans drink fluoridated water, have been for decades and that at the proper concentration, it is “safe and helpful for all ages.”
The sheet also said about 25 percent of Wichita children experience cavities and claimed:“For most cities, every $1 invested in community water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs due to lower health insurance premiums and taxes.”
He said it overstates the benefits and dismisses safety concerns raised by anti-fluoride advocates.
“It is bad enough that we are forced to spend our own time and money, fighting to keep our drinking water clean and free of sodium fluoride,” he said. “It is quite another thing to see our Sedgwick County tax dollars being used to promote fluoridation via the so-called ‘fact sheet.’ ”
Gietzen said he contacted the county in an effort to reserve space on the public agenda to express his concerns to the commission. He said he was told there is a 10-day notice requirement, meaning the earliest he could speak would be the Oct. 24 meeting, a week after absentee ballots are mailed and the same day that in-person advance voting begins.
Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he plans to bring up the fact sheet issue at the commission/staff meeting, which is at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
He said he thinks the fact sheet has left out some important information, such as the 2011 decision by federal health agencies to reduce the recommended fluoride level in community drinking water from 1.2 parts per million to .7 parts per million.
The Centers for Disease Control took that action to account for lifestyle changes, including increased access to and use of fluoride toothpastes and mouthwashes.
According to federal standards, fluoride concentration up to 4 parts per million is acceptable in public drinking water. That would be more than five times the .7 concentration that will be in Wichita water if the initiative passes.
While the county staff meetings do not ordinarily make time for public comment, it has been allowed a few times in the past, Peterjohn said.
However, he said he does not intend to ask anybody to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.
Instead, he said he will try to get the 10-day rule waived so Gietzen or another spokesman for his group can address the commission at a regular meeting before the 24th.
In similar circumstances, “we’ve worked to get people on sooner rather than later,” he said.