By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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“Don’t pack away your fluoride papers quite yet,” Dr. Eloise Kailin implored council members Tuesday.
About an hour earlier, they voted 4-3 to continue fluoridating the city’s water beyond May 18, when a 10-year pledge with the Washington Dental Service Foundation expires.
Deputy Mayor Patrick Downie and council members Brad Collins, Dan Gase and Cherie Kidd voted for Kidd’s motion to continue fluoridating city water through midyear 2026.
Mayor Dan Di Guilio and council members Lee Whetham and Sissi Bruch voted against continuing the practice, with Di Guilio and Whetham citing a recent advisory survey of water users that rejected fluoridation.
Kailin said Wednesday that five months is enough time to gather enough new information about fluoride’s negative effects to convince the City Council to change course.
“We’ve got a lot of time before May 18,” she said.
During a lengthy public comment session at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, council members heard two dozen speakers weigh in with assertions ranging from saying fluoride caused or contributed to a host of health problems including hypothyroidism to statements that it benefited the general population, especially children and the impoverished, by preventing tooth decay.
Council members later withstood criticism shouted by some fluoridation opponents who also did not hesitate to yell at speakers who disagreed with contentions, such as fluoride being tantamount to forced medication.
After one outburst, Di Guilio, in his final regular meeting after eight years on the council, banged his gavel and called for order.
But a pro-fluoridation speaker also stood up and interrupted a person speaking against the practice — who also was, in turn, criticizing a previous speaker who favored fluoridation.
Opponents also emphasized the results of a recent advisory survey of water users that the council majority rejected.
The survey of 9,762 water users inside and outside the city limits generated 4,204 responses by the Nov. 27 deadline.
Of the total, 2,381, or 56.64 percent, rejected fluoridation, while 1,735, or 41.27, favored the practice.
But Kidd and Gase emphasized that anti-fluoridation views accounted for 24 percent of those who received surveys.
Kidd concluded that the majority of voters — 59 percent — had “no problem” with fluoridation by simply not returning the survey or by saying on the survey that fluoridation was not an issue for them.
“Government has a role in promoting and protecting health and safety by implementing effective public health measures,” Kidd added.
“Our medical community has come together to encourage our action on behalf of our community.
“They’re the foot soldiers in our health care system, day in and day out.”
Gase, noting the state Supreme Court has decided the fluoridation question cannot be decided in a standard election, said the council was elected to make certain decisions, including those involving public health.
Collins said public water fluoridation “is a safe and effective public health measure that should not be ignored because of fear-mongering.”
And Downie said he was speaking for children and low-income residents not present at the meeting “who have less access to the health care of the kind we have been fortunate to be blessed by.”
A fluoridated water system helps Port Angeles become “a city of excellence,” Downie added.
Di Guilio acknowledged it would be difficult to recruit new physicians and young professionals if the city does not fluoridate its water, calling it “a step backward.”
But he said when the council decided to conduct the survey, council members committed themselves to follow the results or risk losing trust and credibility.
For her part, Bruch said fluoride was available from many sources.
“From an ethical standpoint, I do not believe we need to add anything to our water and our air,” she said.
Whetham, who championed the survey, said he would support “the will of the people.”
“I don’t feel I can write a prescription for someone to ingest fluoride,” Whetham said.
Speakers against fluoridation almost uniformly reminded the City Council that citizens had made their wishes known in the advisory survey.
“The advisory poll said no,” said Michael Merideth, who will succeed Di Guilio by taking his Position 5 seat in January.
“All you have to do is vote with the people,” echoed Eulalia Engel.
But health care professionals pointed to a different range of views: the opinions of those in their own profession.
Clallam County Public Health Officer Chris Frank spoke of the totality of agreement among practicing physicians on the efficacy of fluoridation.
Some at the meeting were stunned by a particular exchange during the meeting.
After Kidd moved to extend fluoridation for 10 years and Gase seconded her motion, Whetham asked City Attorney Bill Bloor what it would take to recall a City Council person.
Bloor said a council member would have to commit malfeasance or misfeasance in office, after which Whetham dropped the matter without explanation.
Whetham said Wednesday he asked the question of Bloor on behalf of an anti-fluoridation person who asked him about it at the meeting.
“They made the comment to me that one of them would be looking into a recall petition,” Whetham said, adding he could not remember who the person was.
“I wanted to set the record straight for that individual, for what would be necessary to do that.”
“A court would have to decide if there were sufficient grounds to have a recall election,” Bloor said Wednesday.
Whetham’s query “was a shocker,” Kailin said Wednesday. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.