April's "Race Talks" discussion looked at the divisive issue of fluoridation. Portland City Council voted in favor of adding fluoride to the City's water supply last fall. But a campaign, named "Clean Water Portland," gathered 43,000 signatures in one month, enough to put the issue on the ballot this May. Voters will have an opportunity to vote for or against water fluoridation in the May 21 special election.
UPDATE: The City of Club of Portland has just released this report recommending a YES vote on Ballot Measure 26-151.
Held April 9 at the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland, the event drew a crowd of around 100 people, many wearing buttons signaling where they stood on the fluoridation debate.
Organizer Donna Maxey asked the crowd to listen to each speaker without interruption, despite any strong feelings they had. Most people complied but the debate was sometimes punctuated with groans or derisive laughter.
Speaking in favor of water fluoridation were OHSU neuroscientist Damien Fair and Gary Wu MD, a Kaiser Permanente doctor.
Speaking against water fluoridation were Kellie Barnes, a licensed physical therapist, former state legislator Jo Ann Hardesty of Hardesty consulting, and Meies Matz an NAACP member.
Asked if they had changed their minds on the issue, at the end of the debate just four people raised their hands.
The next Race Talks discussion will tackle The Law and Racial/Ethnic Profiling, 7 p.m. May 14 at McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave.
Meies Matz and Damien Fair speak to an audience member
Damien Fair: "Poor dental health –tooth decay—is one of the most prevalent diseases in the world. It cause pain, facial abnormalities… It really does affect children's health.
"Even the scientists who did the Chinese studies have noted they are not applicable to the American experience. Some of the areas they studied that were in their "low fluoride" group had higher concentrations of fluoride than anywhere in the United States.
"We have lots of experience with fluoride. Portland already has 0.1 parts per million of fluoride in our water. What we're talking about is increasing it to 0.7 parts per million. It's perfectly safe."
"There are good people on both sides of this debate. "We're intelligent people and it's a bummer we disagree on this. But we probably disagree on a whole lot of other things too."
Jo Ann Hardesty: "In the neighborhood I live in, I see children drinking those Big Gulps –they have all kinds of stuff but I don't see them drinking a lot of water. So is making everyone ingest this really the best way to help children of color?
"If we really want to help kids of color then we need more dentists –dentists where the first question isn't what kind of insurance do you have?
Phil Wu: "Water fluoridation is agreed upon by all the major healthcare groups in this country: the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control…
"We do need more dental therapists, more dental care, sealants- Nobody is arguing with that. But if you assume fluoride is safe, and I'm very confident in saying it is safe, it is not a matter of either/or. You want to do all those things.
"You've heard fluoride is a chemical – Well, everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical. Our entire bodies are made up of chemicals.
"It's safe. It's effective. It's the best way to help underserved, low-income children and communities of color in overcoming a health disparity."
Kellie Barnes: "There has never been a randomized controlled study that has shown fluoridation is safe and effective ever. That's the gold standard in medicine. Surely we deserve that.
"The National Academy of Sciences study clearly identified some populations who are at risk, such as people who drink a lot of water, people with thyroid disease, people with kidney disease, individuals with diabetes, babies, and the elderly."