PORTLAND -- Amid shouts of protest, the Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday, in favor of adding fluoride to drinking water to fight tooth decay.
The chambers were packed for the controversial vote. Some protesters in the crowd started chanting and waving anti-fluoride signs. Others yelled and cursed, and were escorted out of the public meeting.
"We got nothing short of hate emails, and some of what you witnessed here," commissioner Randy Leonard said after the vote. "But in spite of all that I’m proud of every council member, that they considered the science."
The newly passed ordinance calls for Portland's water to be fluoridated by March 2014 at a projected upfront cost of $5 million.
Portland is the largest U.S. city without fluoridation. Medical experts say it's a safe and effective way to keep teeth healthy.
Opponents have argued that fluoride is an industrial byproduct that contains arsenic, lead and mercury, which can potentially lead to neurological and other health problems.
"When people understand what is being put in the water," said opponent Kimberly Kaminski, "they understand the lack of public process."
Kaminski said voters should be able to choose whether the water is fluoridated or not, with an initiative or referendum. "I think when they really understand the issue they will vote no," she said.
Wednesday's vote was preceded by several protest rallies in Portland over the past year.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced his support for the plan long before the council vote. He has said there is a dental “crisis” among Oregon children, compared to neighboring states and cities that use fluoride in their water. He previously explained his stance in-depth, through a letter posted on line.
The mayor and commissioners have also previously cited a Centers for Disease Control 2011 study that attributed $38 in dental treatment savings for every $1 spent on fluoridation.
Voters in Portland twice rejected fluoridation before approving it in 1978. But that plan was overturned before any fluoride was ever added to the water.