The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday pressed forward with a controversial plan to put fluoride into most of the county's drinking water during an emotional hearing in which dozens of speakers debated whether the chemical compound is a panacea or a poison.
Dentists and other health care professionals, along with a larger, more vocal contingent of fluoride skeptics, packed board chambers for the marathon five-hour public hearing.
Despite reservations expressed by some supervisors, the board unanimously authorized additional financial analysis and engineering studies of adding fluoride to most of the county's drinking water. The final decision is not expected until March 2014.
"We can't ignore the data and the statistics in this county when it comes to the oral health epidemic," Supervisor Efren Carrillo said.
Dozens of speakers, however, expressed anger and dismay over the proposal, citing health concerns, distrust of mainstream science and doubts about how the county would be able to fund the project.
Based on preliminary estimates, the project could cost up to $8.5 million in capital upgrades to the county's central water system, plus ongoing upkeep starting at $973,000 a year, according to a county report.
"I'm assuming this will be necessary because our roads will be so bad we won't be able to drive to the dentist," said Elizabeth Van Dyke of Guerneville, in what became a recurring theme about the county's spending priorities.
Fluoride is a chemical compound and was introduced to U.S. drinking water nearly 70 years ago. About three-quarters of the nation's population served by public water systems, or about 196 million people, are now receiving fluoridated water.
The measure is backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surgeon general, the World Health Organization and the American Dental Association, which called it "the single most effective public health measure to prevent dental decay."