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Collier votes to no longer add fluoride to the county's water supply

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting requests for water-quality grants from local governments, academic institutions, and nonprofits; More than $390 million is available to plan and put into practice projects that protect Florida’s water resources

Florida Department of Environmental Protection
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting requests for water-quality grants from local governments, academic institutions, and nonprofits. More than $390 million is available.

Health experts testify on the importance of keeping the mineral in the water supply, but "health freedom" backers dominate the public discussion before the commission vote.

In a win for what many backers call “health freedom,” the Collier County Commission voted this week to no longer fluoridate the county’s drinking water, something it has been doing since 1985 to help boost dental care.

Since the mid-1940s, communities across the country have been adding fluoride to water. And for about as long, there has been opposition despite the practice being backed by the World Health Organization.

Fluoridation is also supported by the American Dental Association, American Medical Association and Florida Department of Health.

Five dentists spoke in favor of fluoride during public comment at Tuesday's meeting noting its importance for children who lack proper and routine dental care,

About 40 mostly everyday citizens extolled perceived dangers of fluoride, saying adding it to a water supply is like forced medical treatments.

Board Chair Chris Hall had this to say: “I’m all for removing it and giving people the choice to add the fluoride they want to and the ones that don’t want to don’t have it pushed upon them so. It’s all about health freedom and limited government, and I’m all about it.”

Fluoride is a mineral, and some levels of it are already in the nation’s water supply. In areas where levels are too low to help prevent tooth decay, communities have added it.

There are trace fluoride amounts in some mouthwashes and toothpaste, but there are no over-the-counter supplements.

Dr. Lauren Governale is clinical director for the University of Florida Naples Children Education Foundation’s pediatric dental center, which helps underserved children. She told commissioners that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children that don’t have access to fluoridated water get a prescription for supplements – not an easy task.

“Unfortunately for low-income families, complying with this method is not possible at times due to many barriers such as a lack of access to care,” Governale said.

She said dental care is the greatest need for at-risk children. The waiting list to see her can exceed a year, and by then, children need to be sedated because their teeth are in bad shape.

“Community fluoridation is responsible for dramatically improving oral health and has an unrivaled track record, so why change it?" she asked commissioners. "There is no reason to discontinue this important public health resource for the citizens of Collier County.”

After two hours of public comment, the commission voted 5-0 to no longer fluoridate water. This decision does not affect Marco Island and Immokalee. Marco does not fluoridate water. Immokalee does.

Despite voting to remove the fluoride, Commissioners Daniel Kowal and Bill McDaniel expressed concern about disenfranchised children. The officials said they want to meet with health experts to try to help the children and not hinder them.

Collier is not the first major municipality to end fluoridation of public water. In 2011, Pinellas County voted to stop the practice only to add it back a year later. Neighboring Hernando and Pasco counties do not fluorinate their water, nor does Clearwater and Largo, according to the Florida Action Network, a nonfluoridation advocacy group,

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Eileen Kelley