Portland: Where Water Flows, Fluoride-Free
Portland, OR, is unique in many ways. For one, the city doesn't fluoridate its water supply. In fact, voters have rejected water fluoridation repeatedly since the issue first came up in 1956.
Most recently, voters rejected a plan on Tuesday that would have fluoridated the Bull Run Reservoir by a 20-percent margin. Tuesday's loss means that Portland will continue to be the largest U.S. city without fluoridated water, despite the efforts of fluoride supporters to change that.
Their argument? Portland needs fluoridation to help address a statewide "dental crisis." In Oregon, 64 percent of kids have had cavities while one-in-five children have developed seven or more. Meanwhile, Oregon ranks 48th in the nation with regards to access to fluoridated water. Connect the dots, state epidemiologist Dr. Katrina Hedberg told former mayor Sam Adams last September in a prepared statement:
Community water fluoridation can make huge improvements in oral health. Fluoridation is the most important intervention we have at our disposal to ensure optimal dental health in the community, particularly of children.
With the children's "dental crisis" in mind, Adams' successor, mayor Charlie Hales, voted yes on the plan. Five city commissioners also sided with the fluoridation advocates. The pro-fluoridation side had also outdone their opponents in fundraising by margin of 3-to-1.
"Fluoride supporters, it appeared, had everything going for them," wrote The Oregonian in their obituary of Tuesday's attempt.
Change doesn't come easy in the Beaver State. Oregonians are surprisingly stubborn when it comes any law that would tweak the Oregon experience. They've rejected a sales tax nine times in the past eight decades. The ban on self-service gas stations is pretty much a non-issue—a 2012 poll found that two-thirds of Oregonians prefer the legally-mandated attendant.
And then there's the argument that Portland would "pollute" it's notoriously clean water with a chemical that some studies suggest could potentially cause neurological damage to children, at the cost of millions in taxpayer money. A 2012 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and China Medical University found "strong indications that fluoride may adversely affect cognitive development in children."
Meanwhile, the real solution for the statewide "dental crisis?" Expanding dental coverage. From Clean Water Portland, a group that opposed the fluoridation measure:
Instead of spending up to $7 million on a fluoridation plant and $500,000 or more a year on fluoridation chemicals, a comparable investment in increased access to care would better help at-risk kids while protecting the entire community from the health risks of fluoridation.
So nothing's really changed in Portland. No one pays sales tax and no one pumps their own gas.
And water flows fluoride-free.