In November, Buda voters will choose whether to continue fluoridating the city's water system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20 million Texans, equivalent to more than 70 percent of the state population, received fluoridated water in 2014.
Buda City Council elected to allow citizens to vote on a fluoridation referendum at its Feb. 7 meeting by a 5-2 vote. Council members Wiley Hopkins, Place 2, and Eileen Altmiller, Place 5, voted against the motion.
Some Buda residents say hydrofluorosilicic acid, the type of fluoride the city planned to use, can be detrimental to health—despite general scientific consensus on its safety. The CDC named community fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th
century. Still, concerns remain.
“I want to do what’s best for my family, for my health,” said Amanda Bodine, an organizer with Buda Citizens for Safe Water, which opposes the fluoridation program. “It’s an issue that’s very personal and can be considered medication in our water, and I think that’s something that people take issue with.”
The city’s plan
Buda customers have received fluoridated water since 2002, the year the city became a Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority customer, Buda Water Specialist Brian Lillibridge said at a December council meeting. Buda receives its water from the San Marcos treatment plant. In November 2015, the GBRA stopped fluoridating this supply source after San Marcos voters elected to cease fluoridation.
In July 2015, Buda City Council passed a resolution supporting the continued use of fluoride in the city’s water supply, and Buda city staff teamed up with the Texas Fluoridation Program, a division of the Texas Department of State Health Services, to design and install a fluoridation system at the Bonita Vista pump station. But public outcry in late 2016 led Mayor Todd Ruge to request a public hearing be held during the Feb. 7 City Council meeting, when the council announced the issue would go to a vote.
If Buda citizens decide to continue the fluoridation program, hydrofluorosilicic acid would be administered through a system designed by an engineer from the TFP, which provided most of the system components free of charge to the city. To date, Buda has spent $6,244.95 on the system, Lillibridge said.
The CDC has found that fluoride additives such as hydrofluorosilicic acid are no different than natural fluoride, Lillibridge said. The American Dental Association and the World Health Organization also support the fluoridation of drinking water as a means to improve dental health.
‘A step in the right direction’
Bodine, along with the Buda Citizens for Safe Water, opposes the continuation of the fluoridation program. She said the group is pleased it got its point across to City Council.
“I feel like we had kind of a mini victory,” she said. “I wouldn’t say we had a complete victory, because it’s not really what we wanted. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
She said the group hopes for a city charter amendment. The problem with having a referendum, she said, is that even if a referendum to cease the fluoridation program passes and an ordinance is created, another City Council could vote to reverse the ordinance without voter approval.
A city charter amendment requires 20 percent of registered voters, or 1,530 of Buda’s roughly 7,647 registered voters, to sign a petition requesting the issue be placed on the ballot. The only way a future City Council would be able to reverse a charter amendment would be for the people to vote again.
“I feel like it’s great they’re going to let us vote, but I also feel like it’s kind of a Band-Aid because it can be changed down the road without the people voting again,” she said.
The group will likely seek a city charter amendment this spring, Bodine said, and she is optimistic about gathering enough petition signatures.
Buda Citizens for Safe Water
Buda Citizens for Safe Water was formed in December after the issue of fluoridation was brought up at the Dec. 6 council meeting, Bodine said. Bodine was not informed about water fluoridation before then and had no idea Buda’s water was fluoridated in the past.
“It’s not the same fluoride that’s in our toothpaste or that the dentist puts on my kid’s teeth,” Bodine said. “Our group is not anti-fluoride. This is not an anti-fluoride movement. This is an anti-hydrofluorosilicic acid movement. And there’s a big difference.”
Bodine said she and other members of Buda Citizens for Safe Water feel there are too many potential risks with community fluoridation using hydrofluorosilicic acid.
“Several people in our group have autoimmune disorders, cancers, and their physicians have specifically told them not to drink fluoridated water because of the effect it has on their thyroid [and] on the different parts of their body that are affected by their ailments,” she said.
She acknowledged that community water fluoridation is endorsed by multiple worldwide health organizations, but she said she and other group members remain skeptical.
“I think there’s a lot of dentists who are indoctrinated to believe that water fluoridation is a wonderful thing,” she said. “And why wouldn’t they? I don’t blame them. But I really wish people would do their research.”
Limiting sugar and eating healthy foods are better alternatives for dental health than drinking fluoridated water, she said.
She said hydrofluorosilicic acid is a byproduct of phosphate fertilizer and can be dangerous, but a DSHS representative disputed that popular claim.
Much of the fluoride used for water fluoridation is extracted from phosphate rock, which can also be used to create fertilizers, soft drinks and other products, he said.
The case for fluoride
Angela Kennedy was on City Council until December. A former fluoridation engineer at DSHS, she is adamant about the benefits of community fluoridation. She said that in July 2015, the Buda Water and Wastewater Committee and City Council unanimously supported the city’s resolution to continue the fluoridation program.
“It provides a tremendous dental health benefit, to children in particular, but to communities as a whole,” she said. “Fluoride is ubiquitous; it’s an extremely common element. It’s naturally occurring in water.”
In fact, there are parts of Buda where the concentration of naturally occurring fluoride in the groundwater supply is adequate, Kennedy said. Even if residents vote against continuing the fluoride program, some will still receive natural fluoride that will provide protection for their teeth. But there are also communities in Buda that only have access to surface water that will not receive that benefit, she said.
When water contains fluoride, it strengthens tooth enamel and can potentially resist cavities, she said. She thinks much of the controversy has to do with the spread of misinformation.
“It’s fantastic that people want to be informed," Kennedy said. "The internet is a wonderful place to find good information, but it’s also a place to find a tremendous amount of misinformation about fluoride.”