Anchorage Mayor Briefly Shut Off Fluoride in City’s Water System

Some local officials questioned whether Mayor Dave Bronson was motivated by false claims about the safety of drinking fluoridated water, which have circulated for decades.,

Some local officials questioned whether Mayor Dave Bronson was motivated by false claims about the safety of drinking fluoridated water, which have circulated for decades.

When the story appeared last week on a local news site, a spokesman for Mayor Dave Bronson of Anchorage denied it. Then the spokesman acknowledged it was true: Mr. Bronson went to a city water treatment plant in October and shut off the fluoride in the water system.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Mr. Bronson’s spokesman, Corey Allen Young, said the mayor made the decision on Oct. 1 after his team was informed that fluoride was burning the eyes and throats of workers who handled it. He said the fluoride was turned back on five hours later, after he learned that the city code required that Anchorage’s tap water be fluoridated.

But some local leaders say the mayor’s story doesn’t add up because no workers have reported any injuries related to fluoride, according to the union that represents them.

“I was pretty shocked to see the statement that the mayor’s administration put out,” said Aaron Plikat, an official at the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 367, which represents workers at the Eklutna Water Treatment Plant. “We’ve never had a complaint or even a phone call or a voice of concern that came from the plant there.”

He said that Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility, which operates the plant, “does a fantastic job” with the workers by providing them with protective gear and training to safely handle fluoride.

Some local officials question whether Mr. Bronson, a Republican, might have been motivated by false claims about the safety of drinking fluoridated water, which have circulated for decades and gained some traction in Alaska.

Juneau, the state capital, permanently shut off fluoride in its water system more than a decade ago; the cities of Fairbanks and Palmer followed. Anchorage, too, has had fitful efforts to end fluoride in its water system.

“Alaska has one of the lowest rates of fluoridated water access per population in the U.S., which is really sad because they voluntarily chose to turn off programs that were working,” said Jennifer Meyer, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

She noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had called fluoridated drinking water one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century for the way it has contributed to a large decline in cavities in the United States.

Christopher Constant, a member of the Anchorage Assembly, the local governing body, said the panel was investigating Mr. Bronson’s decision to order that the fluoride be shut off in violation of city code.

He and another Assembly member, Suzanne LaFrance, have sent a letter to the general manager of Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility asking for more information about the mayor’s visit.

“I am not certain of the facts,” Mr. Constant, a Democrat, said in a text message. “But if proven true, this fits squarely into the Venn diagram of antiscience arguments so common these days: Covid denial, antivaccine rhetoric and antifluoride politics.”

Mr. Bronson, a former Air Force pilot who took office in July, has vehemently opposed mask and vaccine mandates to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and said in July that he did not plan to get the vaccine, which he called “experimental.”

In September, he defended residents who wore yellow Star of David badges — like the ones Nazis forced Jews to wear — to protest a proposed mask mandate in Anchorage. “I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them,” Mr. Bronson said, referring to Jews. He later apologized.

Mr. Bronson and Mr. Young, the spokesman, did not respond to emails and text messages on Wednesday and Thursday about the decision to turn off fluoride.

The mayor’s action came to public attention after it was reported on Dec. 11 by The Alaska Landmine, a local news site, which cited unnamed sources.

After initially calling the story “false,” Mr. Young issued a statement to local news outlets on Tuesday acknowledging that the mayor had gone to the plant where, he said, Mr. Bronson’s team was told that fluoride was “a heath hazard for employees” and that “pausing” it would not violate federal, state or local law.

“To protect the health and safety of A.W.W.U. staff, it was decided by the mayor to halt the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply,” Mr. Young said in the statement.

Later that afternoon, the mayor’s office determined that the municipal code required the fluoridation of the water supply and “immediately” told the utility’s leadership to turn the fluoride back on, the statement said. It quoted the utility’s general manager as saying there had not been any “material change” in the fluoride levels that day.

Dr. Meyer noted that claims that fluoridated water caused health problems — like cancer and low birthrates — had been roundly rejected by the American Dental Association, the C.D.C. and other scientific authorities.

“We’ve been studying fluoride for over 70 years and, if there was a safety signal, we would have seen it,” Dr. Meyer said. “We continue to see over and over again the benefits of fluoridation.”

Dr. Meyer was an author of a 2018 study on the effects of Juneau’s decision to stop fluoridating its water. The study found that residents under 18 who had the least amount of exposure to fluoridated water experienced the most procedures for cavities, such as fillings and crowns, and the highest treatment costs.

“When you take away that public health intervention, it moves children into preventable suffering,” Dr. Meyer said. “It’s kind of a silent actor. You don’t hear about it. It’s not something you can physically see, really. But students experience a lot of pain.”

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