BROOKSVILLE -There will be no fluoride in Hernando County's water system.
County commissioners decided not to introduce the chemical after listening Tuesday to dozens of people speaking on the matter.
The majority of those speakers were opposed to fluoridation. At the end of the two-hour debate, Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said the board was pressed for time and asked the remaining crowd to stand and acknowledge whether they were for or against mandatory fluoridation.
The crowd was about evenly divided.
Commissioner Diane Rowden made a motion for the county to consider mandatory fluoridation but it died for lack of a second.
Rowden was impressed after hearing testimony from pro-fluoride experts of the benefits to those who don't have access to dental care.
Her colleagues, however, had little to say one way or another and instead turned down Rowden's motion with no comment.
Leading the parade of supporters was Pinellas pediatric dentist Johnny Johnson, who gave a slide show presentation on the benefits of fluoridation.
The greatest impact would be to low socio-economic residents who cannot afford regular dental check-ups, he said.
"The poorest of the poor in Hernando County, both children and adults, need you to step up and vote to fluoridate the water for them," according to Johnson. "It is the only equitable way that we have of providing everyone the benefits of 25 percent or greater cavity reductions without a single change in their daily routine."
The science behind fluoridation, Johnson said in his presentation, is "crystal clear."
"Fluoridation is safe, effective and provides huge cost-savings and reduces human pain and suffering," he said.
However, Jim Intzen, an opponent of fluoridation, said the county health department offers a dental program so it is a fallacy that low-income people don't have access to affordable care.
Intzen said fluorosis can develop from overuse of the chemical and tooth staining and pitting can develop.
Studies, he said, have shown there is no difference in dental health in areas where mandatory fluoride is in use and places where it is not present.
Intzen said people can develop thyroid problems from fluoridated water and it can lower a person's IQ.
"Hundreds of communities have rejected fluoridation in their water since 1990," he said.
People, he added, "should have a right to choose for themselves."
Audience members said it was unconstitutional to force fluoridation on citizens. European countries have already outlawed its use in public drinking supplies, a few people said.
Others quoted research articles that called fluoride an "insidious poison."
Retired doctor Robert Broe said not only is fluoride harmful when ingested by mouth but it is absorbed into the skin and ultimately the bloodstream when showering.
Resident Pat Miketinac said all the scientific data shows fluoride is harmful and for the commissioners to put it into the water supply would be disastrous.
"It removes freedom of choice and becomes medication (by force)," he said.
Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's director of environmental services, said 2-15 percent of the water, if fluoridated, would be ingested by mouth. The rest comes out in the form of irrigation, toilet water and other uses.
Goebel-Canning said it would cost Hernando County an estimated $800,000 to fluoridate the water supply for more than 60,000 households in Hernando County.