I have watched, with some amusement, the debate over fluoridating Portland's drinking water. It amuses me because when the topic was brought up by Commissioner Leonard I knew what was in store, having lived through a similar debate in Ithaca, NY. What I knew from the Ithaca experience is that very, very smart people can disagree on fluoridation and that very, very smart people can get apoplectic about such a seemingly innocuous topic.
From a pure public policy perspective, it is pretty close to a slam dunk, the public health benefit far outweighs the cost. But the idea that you would put something in the water is jarring to people, forcing them to ingest something rather than leaving them the choice is where a lot of people draw the line on government intervention.
And I think that those in charge ignore this sentiment at their peril. The way that the fluoridation proposal has been handled seems to me a bit heavy handed. Sure, fluoridation makes policy sense, sure everyone else does it, but Portlanders have a particular affection for their water - it is one of the real benefits of living in this city, pure Bull Run water delivered unadulterated to our homes. There are lots of things government could do, but we should be prudent it what government does do, especially when it entails something so intrusive.
I, for one, have no problem with fluoride in the water and see the public health benefit from such a policy. But I, were I a city councilperson, would hesitate to vote for fluoridation. Providing fluoride tablets, fluoride toothpaste, education about fluoride, sure, but I think we must be judicious about the intrusion of government in people's lives. If it were not Portland and its pristine water perhaps I would feel differently, but it is easy to understand why people don't want to mess with the natural environment with which we in the Northwest are blessed.