Pinellas County Commissioners reaffirms removing fluoride from drinking water supply

In 2003, Commissioners debated and ultimately voted to add fluoride to the water supply. Though there was heated debate then, the intensity has been ever greater in the past week. Some point towards the influence of the Tea Party in Pinellas, and though the key swing vote from 2003 to last week, John Morroni, said he didn't like the fact that citizen's political orientation was now subject for criticism, he admitted that his belief that the government gets too involved in the public sphere clearly echoes that Libertarian, Tea Party ethic.

At one point during the discussion, the idea of bringing the issue before the public next year in the form of a referendum was discussed, with Commissioner Morroni making that suggestion. But it died without much support.

Although there were a few medical professionals at this Tuesday's meeting urging the board to change their vote, there were many more who argued the opposite, sometimes with vitriol in their voices.

L.D. Sledge, a retired Palm Harbor attorney, warned commissioners that if they reversed last week's vote, there would be a "tsunami" of lawsuits coming their way regarding the continued use of fluoride.

Kurt Irmisher, from the group Citizens for Safe Water, said he'd like to eliminate the "hype" that the St. Pete Times had reported, calling it not only inaccurate, but "incendiary," and took exception to the comments made in the Times that the opposition was relegated to members of the Tea Party. He said that fluoride "is a poison, and is poisoning the populace."

Jim Pruitt angrily barked at commissioners, saying they had no right to put fluoride in the water, and questioned "so-called scientists who don’t know what they're talking about."

Citizen Virginia Brown addressed the BOCC with a bible in hand and said they could be assured that there would be a Congressional committee to be held on the crimes of fluoridation "and those responsible will be tried in a court of law." She said that "no amount of slanted media coverage will stop truth from taking its proper course."

One speaker then personally called out Commissioner Ken Welch, an outspoken critic of last week's vote, saying he should be "sanctioned" for his comments in the media, especially for saying some of those who oppose fluoride were Tea Party members. Welch said it was factual that some of those critics clearly were from the Tea Party, as they have been active at County Commission meetings in Clearwater over the past few months.

Welch later took offense to Commissioner Norm Roach's suggestion that putting fluoride in the drinking water supply was akin to putting Ritalin, or Prozac into the water. Roach reacted by saying he was equally offended by Welch's comment that what would the board opt to do next, call for a vote on child immunization shots?

Later Welch concluded that "we are moving into the backwoods of urban counties" with respect to their vote on fluoride. His two colleagues who voted with him, Karen Seel and Susan Latvala, expressed their disappointment as well.

Not all Pinellas residents will soon be drinking water without fluoride, however as St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Belleair and Dunedin currently's water supply will continue to use fluoride.

A week after Pinellas County Commissioners stunned the Tampa Bay area by voting to eliminate adding fluoride to the drinking supply in the county, the issue was back up for a lengthy discussion today in Clearwater - but the final result remained the same.

Commissioners on both sides of the argument said that the reaction from the community has been explosive and divisive, and the the calls and e-mails to their offices showed a split electorate.

Though there were several officials representing dental associations and the medical community who urged commissioners to reverse their vote, they were outgunned by a plethora of citizens, many lavishing praise for the four commissioners who supported the decision last week (Norm Roach, Neil Brickfield, Nancy Bostock and John Morroni), while skewering the three who did not, in particular Commissioner Ken Welch.

Receiving equally as much criticism was the St. Petersburg Times, who in an editorial last Thursday blasted the vote, referring to the board's vote as taking "a big step backward on public health, siding with the extreme rhetoric of a vocal conservative minority over sober scientific analysis and the county's medical community."

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