In the understated words of Nancy Bostock, one of the four commissioners who supported that change, the vote was "controversial." And the controversy is still being played out on the campaign trail.
Tuesday night in Gulfport, at the Pasadena Golf Club Estates candidate forum at the Most Holy Name Catholic Church, all six candidates running for commissioner were asked to weigh in on the issue. For the three incumbents on the ballot, it was a matter of reiterating why they voted the way they did a year ago. For their challengers, it was an opportunity to express where they stand on taking fluoride out of the water system.
Janet Long and Charlie Justice, the Democrats challenging the two Republican incumbents, are using their opponents' support of that measure as a key talking point.
Republican incumbent Neil Brickfield, who's being challenged by Long, had this to say on the subject:
"I voted to stop supplementing our water with fluoride," said Brickfield. "I think that we the citizens of Pinellas County should be able to choose for ourselves what goes in our body. I put a proposal to our County Commission that we put this out for citizen referendum, so we, all of us, could decide for ourselves. That wasn’t accepted. if I’m reelected I’m willing to put that back before the county commission. Fundamentally I think we should be able to decide for ourselves what we do or don’t like."
Janet Long responded, "I would vote to put fluoride back in the water. Part of the question was, what background or what expertise do you have to make that decision? If there’s one thing that I learned from serving in the Florida Legislature, is that when you’re an elected official, you cannot possibly know and be an expert on every single thing that comes before you, so therefore, if you’re smart and a thoughtful leader, you’re going to reach out to the people who are the experts — the medical professionals and the scientists who make it their life’s work to understand all of these particular issues.."
County Commissioner Nancy Bostock :
"Just to clarify. We are not taking fluoride out of the water. All of the natural fluoride that was always in the water, is still in the water. We voted to stop adding additional chemicals to the water. My vote was based on simply giving Pinellas residents a choice whether or not to consume fluoride as part of your dental health. It is controversial, and I think that we should go to the experts. I just happen to think that the experts are you — and you should get to decide, not have it put in your water supply and then not have a choice. Most of the conversation has centered around using community fluoridated water to help the at-risk children. And if you look at the data and you look into the rise and the sale of bottled water, 37 billion liters of bottled water was sold in this country last year. If you look at a study that I found that was published by the American Medical Association, minority children are 3 times more likely to drink bottled water. It's counter-intuitive but the lower the family income, the higher rates of drinking bottled water. We're putting this chemical into the water. Not giving our residents a choice — we were — and it's not even getting to the very children that we were intending to help. I think it's a personal decision..and I voted to quit adding chemicals so that you can decide for yourself.
Democrat Charlie Justice is campaigning against Bostock by frequently bringing up her fluoride vote.
"Let’s be clear, fluoride was in the water. Pinellas County was putting fluoride in the water. The current commission voted to take it out, to stop it, whatever terminology you want, they voted to take fluoride out of the water. I would vote to put it back in. The Pinellas Medical Association, the Pinellas Dental Association, your doctors and dentists agree, this is one of the best public health benefits that we can have for family. And just so you know, minority doesn’t mean impoverished. Some of the most impoverished parts of Pinellas County are getting the water, and they are the ones who need the help the most."
Republican Buck Walz is running against Democrat Ken Welch in District 7:
"What they were tying to do was reach a certain segment of the population. Your underprivileged or your people who don’t get regular dental care. Okay, my question is, putting chemicals in the water to give everybody fluoride. Is that the answer? Or do we find another economic way to get these children of this particular segment of the population the fluoride that they need? There’s a budget in place for that. I support Neil and Nancy's decision to take fluoride out of the water."
Ken Welch: "I respect the opinions on this and we discussed this over several months at the county commission and I respect folks on the other side , but to me, this was just about public health and listening to the experts in the room. The surgeon General representatives, the CDC, the dental associations, the health department were all in the room telling us this was safe, this is best practice and public safety is one of our charter responsibilities. I was on the commission in ’03 when we voted to adjust fluoride and add it to the water. We were the last urban country in the Southeast to do it at that time, Now we’re the largest urban county in the Southeast not to fluoridate our water."