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Watsonville fluoridation plans put on hold

February 03, 2012

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

Watsonville, Calif.—After a decade of debates, including a ballot initiative, a court case and enforcement of a state law, the plan to fluoridate the city of Watsonville has been temporarily shelved due to financial constraints.

The California Dental Association Foundation notified Watsonville officials Feb. 2 that the agreement to fluoridate has been nullified because the lowest construction bid of nearly $2.8 million plus $640,000 in additional start-up expenses far exceeded the earlier estimated cost of $1.6 million earmarked for the project.

“Community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure communities can implement to prevent tooth decay and improve the oral health of their constituents, so it is with a heavy heart that the California Dental Association Foundation regrets to inform you that we cannot fund the planned fluoridation facilities in Watsonville at this time,” the letter said. The Foundation has told local stakeholders “not now but not never” with regard to project funding. “CDAF will continue to work diligently to identify funding for this fluoridation project, but it cannot be accomplished within the time frame required,” the letter stated.

The City of Watsonville signed a Fluoridation Funding Agreement Sept. 26, 2010. The agreement was contingent upon the total estimated project costs not exceeding $1.6 million. “Because the lowest bid exceeds that amount, CDAF is reluctantly exercising its option to declare the FFA null and void.”

In a press release, the CDAF lauded “the extraordinary efforts of Watsonville’s community-based coalition of dedicated dental professionals, health care providers and public supporters who worked tirelessly to make fluoridation a reality. Thanks to their efforts and others throughout the state, 23.2 million Californians (62.5 percent) now receive the benefits of fluoridated water, compared to only 17 percent in 1992. Proven to be safe and effective, water fluoridation has been cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century.”

“Many in Watsonville suffer from dental disease—statewide data shows children in particular live in chronic pain, miss school and have difficulty learning due to untreated tooth decay,” said Dr. Donald Rollofson, CDAF chair. “The Foundation and many other state and national organizations will continue to fight for community water fluoridation to prevent tooth decay and improve the oral health of Californians.”

The question of fluoridation has been the source of contentious debate in Watsonville for 10 years. In 2002, Watsonville voters passed Measure S, which essentially banned fluoridation. But the ban went against state law, which the California Courts ruled in 2006 takes precedence. On Sept. 28, 2010, the Watsonville City Council voted 4-3 to accept funding from the California Dental Association Foundation to implement fluoridation, avoiding a fine of $200 per day if it did not comply with the law. Watsonville is the only city in California where the state has moved to enforce the law.