BROOKSVILLE - After months of discussion, many emails and academic research - even a visit from an internationally known critic - the Brooksville City Council voted to put fluoride back in the city's water supply in October.
On Dec. 1, fluoride officially was back after a two-year hiatus.
Brooksville added fluoride to its water supply from 1986 through 2011. Communities have been adding the naturally occurring mineral to water supplies for about 70 years as a way to prevent tooth decay.
Perhaps the most significant event during the fluoride debate was a visit by Paul Connett, a top fluoride opponent who visited Brooksville in August to speak at a city meeting. About 50 people attended the hour-long talk, during which Connett, who authored the 2010 book "The Case Against Fluoride," spoke about research that shows little difference in the decrease of tooth decay between those who drink fluoridated and non-fluoridated water.
Connett said community water fluoridation forces residents to "swallow a known toxic substance" and discussed research suggesting fluoride leads to lower IQ and perhaps even the death of a "few young boys" every year from osteosarcoma.
The chemist also said poor diets contribute to fluoride's adverse effects, leading to the suffering of low-income families.
After his presentation, Connett answered questions from City Council members for about half an hour. When Connett was done speaking, then-Mayor Lara Bradburn thanked the packed house for taking the time to come and said good night.
"No public input?" one attendee said.
"We had input at the last one," another said.
Bradburn hit the gavel, and the room began to clear.
Johnny Johnson, a dentist and public health advocate, asked several times leading up to the meeting to have "equal time" to present the benefits of fluoridated water. He refused to participate in a "presidential-style debate" with Connett, which Bradburn had hoped he would agree to do.
Johnson attended the Connett workshop prepared in case Bradburn did allow him equal time, and called the meeting "very sad" and "very one-sided."
"This is about the health of kids in Brooksville, not about City Council," Johnson said. "I can't sit back and watch 15,000 to 16,000 people harmed because of junk science."
Johnson said as "incensed" as he and other dentists and fluoride advocates were by not being included in the workshop, being disruptive was not the answer.
"We're professionals," Johnson said. "Even if we don't agree, we respect the council, the mayor."
Local dentists and representatives of the Hernando County Health Department attended City Council meetings during the weeks and months leading up to the fluoride vote, asking council members to consider reputable, not fringe, science while making a decision that affected the city.
On Oct. 7, City Council members voted 4-1 to reinstate fluoride. The vote was less divided than earlier in the year, when then-Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn said he believed there must be a better way to prevent tooth decay than fluoridated water, and council member Joe Bernardini expressed concern and asked for more information.
Bradburn cast the lone dissenting vote, saying Brooksville residents should not be forced to ingest a dangerous and toxic substance, nor be burdened with the "liability." Bradburn said fluoride leaks have caused water contamination, killed fish and burned through storage containers, and he accused Florida's Department of Health of misrepresenting the seriousness of the additive.
Bradburn also said about three local dentists expressed concern about fluoride to her, but they refused to speak publicly.
After the vote, Douglas Roth, a local dentist who attended many meetings to express support for fluoride, said the vote stands up to "junk science" and will benefit the children of Brooksville.