It’s been nearly two years since our last blog post in February 2017 and a lot has happened in the interim. We expect to resume publication in early 2019 if not sooner. Please stay tuned.
The Fluoride Follies blog exists to provide regular coverage of Austin’s ongoing anti-fluoridation fight. For five years, starting in 2008, it did exactly that, keeping its many followers worldwide, from Austin to Australia, up to date. In 2013 we lost our Internet platform and had to shut down temporarily—a temporarily which stretched to a year and a half. We started up again in February of 2015, publishing regularly until the infamous August 19 joint meeting of City Council’s Public Utilities Committee (PUC) and Health and Human Services Committee (HHSC). That event—carefully crafted by PUC chair Delia Garza to protect the fluoridation program by ignoring all input from outside the organized health and dentistry bubble—was intended to shut down any further discussion of the issue inside City Hall. Her arrogance is on display in this short clip:
While the setback won’t stop us, it did serve to disabuse us of any hope we might have had that the new 10-1 district system would perform appreciably differently from its at-large predecessor. Of the 10 new councilmembers, only Don Zimmerman has had the courage to support our simple desire to remove a voluntarily-placed harmful and costly toxin from the drinking water supply. (Mayor Adler, far more intelligent and image-conscious than his predecessor, Leffingwell, is still an unknown quantity.)
It also gave us cause to step back and take a breather to follow closely three important, directly related events: the anti-fluoridation battles being waged in San Marcos to the south and Dallas to the north, and hanging over everything the specter of rigged electronic voting machines.
The subject of fair and open elections (or lack thereof) had been raised locally following the suspicious outcome of the District 4 City Council elections of November /December 2014, in which Dr. Laura Pressley, the popular leading candidate supposedly “lost” by a 2:1 margin to a college-age carpetbagger with a largely non-voting constituency. We have written elsewhere about her challenge to the integrity of the election process in Austin/Travis County, now awaiting resolution in the Third Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, during the intervening year and a half, Dr. Pressley, whose extensive statistics background enabled her to spot anomalies in the results of several Council races, has challenged her own presumptive “defeat” and in the process of discovery, uncovered evidence of widespread problems with electronic voting machines throughout the entire state. The outcome of her case will bear heavily upon whether we can expect an honest and open vote in a public referendum, should we one day choose that option.
While we were pondering the wisdom of ever undertaking a public referendum under the cloud of prospective vote rigging, San Marcos, a booming college town of 54,000 some 30 miles due south was doing exactly that. Following two years of steady advocacy to an unresponsive City Council, the Communities for Thriving Water – Fluoride Free San Marcos Coalition (later joined by Austin-based Texans for Accountable Government) took the petition route. In April they submitted over 1,600 signatures seeking a change to the city charter that would prohibit the artificial fluoridation of San Marcos water.
In a stunning and unexpected move, the City administration attempted to thwart its residents’ exercise of their constitutional rights. It first attempted to invalidate the properly-collected signatures, forcing the coalition to take legal action, whereupon it sued the coalition’s leaders individually. Only when ordered by a Hays County district judge to place the item (Proposition 1) on the November ballot did do so—along with a second item (Proposition 2) intended to make it more difficult for citizens to effect a charter change in the future. Further, the City re-worded the activists’ proposed language in an ambiguous way designed, many thought, to provide a loophole for continued fluoridation in San Marcos. In the end, however, when Proposition 1 passed easily by 61% to 39%, the City offered no further obstacles and the tap was turned off on November 12 without further incident. Today San Marcos in fluoride free.
Meanwhile, 185 miles to the north, Dallasites are fighting a battle that looks a whole lot like our own. Dallas, with a 1.25 million population is another large, high stakes, politically-driven city with handsome rewards available to those who play ball. It has 14 council members to Austin’s 10 and again like Austin, only one who has openly supported ending fluoridation. Their present day anti-fluoride movement began in spring 2014 when a group began speaking regularly at City Hall with the solid support of then-councilmember Sheffie Kadane. Their efforts have met the same icy resistance from their Council as have ours and initially—unlike ours—with intense press ridicule. During their short existence they’ve held many creative events from protests to banquets: all ignored by City Hall. Yet they’re seen as a threat. Within a few weeks of their first appearance at Council meetings, the City limited citizens communication speakers to one appearance a month. Next, it changed the format of archived City Council meetings to one which is virtually impossible to download and manipulate. By mid-year 2015, staff was cutting off their microphones in Council chambers. (We in Austin have experienced variants of all these tactics).
This past April 27, the Dallas fluoride fighters held their largest event yet: a Fluoride Action Day at City Hall. Eighteen speakers signed up, many with videoclips of medically-qualified experts telling why they oppose fluoride. The City of Dallas’ response was to refuse to stream the videos. It has now banned the playing of videoclips during citizens communication. Press coverage was essentially nil. NSNBC (does anyone know what that stands for?), the curious international web news outlet which introduced Dallas’ anti-fluoride movement to the world two years ago by mis-reporting an end to fluoridation, checked in, but only to cover a tasteless tweet by one council member. Robert Wilonsky who once spewed spleen and ridicule from his Dallas Morning News blog, promised another writeup but it never came.
Despite the present-day adage that any publicity is good publicity, I think the media blackout is not without its bright side. To me it indicates that the likes of Wilonsky and Jacquielynn Floyd, another odious Morning News commentator, by now appreciate that public sentiment is not with them and ridicule no longer works. Or at least their bosses do. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, lest they rise up and bite you.
So carry on, Dallas friends; we’ll be right beside you in the fight to be first to batter down the door that all the rest will run through.
The Fluoride Free Updater Sunday May 22, 2016
To a fluoride-free future!
P.O. Box 7486, Austin TX 78713
I’ve deliberately let some time pass before attempting to cover the events of last month’s joint meeting of the Public Utilities and the Health and Human Services committees. It was the first significant airing of the fluoridation issue since Randi Shade held hearings in 2011, an opportunity her defeat for re-election brought to a close. Regrettably we did not get the level playing field we had hoped for. But we received useful front page coverage from the Statesman (for once posing as neutral) and learned a great deal from the experience.
Perhaps our hardest takeaway is that the “new” 10-1 Council is for the most part just as susceptible to special interest pressure as the at-large one we left behind. That it’s not entirely unexpected doesn’t make it any less a disappointment, though the picture has been brightened by support from the libertarian-minded Don Zimmerman (District 6) who was willing to bring the fluoridation issue to the table. Mayor Steve Adler, unquestionably more open to new ideas than was his predecessor, has yet to weigh in.
The format was to be one of equal time for both sides: 10-15 minutes of formal presentation, plus two 3-minute citizens communication slots for each. However, that would shift considerably. PUC chair Delia Garza, recently returned from maternity leave, expressed no curiosity about a chemical whose safety for babies has raised so many questions, but rather seemed committed to moving the process along without leaving her comfort zone.
First up to bat was Austin/Travis County medical officer Philip Huang, accompanied by his favorite prop, a rolling cart stacked with file folders supposedly containing hundreds of studies that prove fluoridation safe and effective. Garza, sitting through his rapid-fire monologue as stoically as those who have seen the show before, allowed him to drone on for 20 minutes without penalty. To this, she permitted the stacking of two Austin dentist-bureaucrats: Matthew Heck and Elyse Barron for an additional seven minutes.
Our speakers: Dr. Griffin Cole DDS, Bill Swail, RPh (owner of Austin’s popular People’s Pharmacy) and San Antonio-based LULAC leader Henry Rodriguez came prepared with tightly-crafted presentations. Caught off guard by Garza’s last-minute offer of extra time, they were not able make full use of it.
Because the entire proceeding is available to view at the top of this page we won’t go deeply into the specifics here. Suffice it to say that the fluoridationists came on strong with their usual cut and paste endorsements from the CDC and related websites. Cole, Swail and Rodriguez countered their propaganda with as much real information as they could pack into the short allotted time.
None of which seemed to spark much interest among the councilmembers with the exception of Don Zimmerman, author of the proposed anti-fluoride resolution. In the interest of brevity, Garza allowed only two 3-minute citizens communication speaker slots for each side of the issue. Rae Nadler-Olenick and Dr. Joan Sefcik DDS spoke against fluoridation. The pro-F side was filled by dentist James McLane and one Stephanie Rubin who introduced herself only as ‘an Austin resident and parent of a four-year-old” but who in fact possesses strong ties to the fluoridation-pushing Pew Trusts.
In the limited discussion that followed, only Zimmerman expressed any objection to the uncontrolled forced-medication of an entire population, including babies, with an arsenic-contaminated industrial waste. The behavior of the other Council members–who had clearly made up their minds in advance–was quite telling. All clung to a blind denial of fluoride’s toxicity; acceptance of the fantasy of some delicately-balanced “optimal.” dose; and a willingness to ignore the inconvenient fact that if 0.7 ppm is “just right” for children who don’t brush their teeth, it will be too much for those who do.
PUC Chair Garza, who by breastfeeding will spare her own infant exposure to the toxin for at least the crucial first six months, seemed bored for the most part. Neither safety nor effectiveness appeared important to her, only the power to force families to take their medicine one way or another.
Ellen Troxclair (who keeps fluoride free water in her office) revealed her weakness by retreating into a shell of silence. Animated and involved at the June 17 meeting, she fidgeted during Rodriguez’ talk, ate while a clip about St. David’s Foundation’s Healthy Smiles program played, and generally showed herself unready for some of the grittier aspects of big city politics.
Almost as astounding was the transformation of Ann Kitchen, in two months, from concerned public servant to Keeper of the Faith. Though Kitchen’s ties to the public health industry are well known, the opinions she expressed on this occasion were nowhere in evidence back in June. We’re tempted to wonder what happened in the interim.
Ora Houston’s good intentions collided with a scary cluelessness. She declared, shockingly, that 6,000 District 1 children go to bed hungry at night. If that’s true, then spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to prevent those same hungry kids who grew up with fluoridated water from having “more cavities than they do already” hardly seems the best use of resources. The toxicity of fluoride is completely lost on her. Houston has spent years in the human services field and will believe anything a public health “authority” tells her. Fortunately, a sizeable number of her constituents have more sense than that.
Kathie Tovo (District 6) was a no-show. Just as well. She wasn’t needed.
To sum up: once more we failed to get an equitable airing. The Council Committee system is a double-edged sword which opens some doors while closing others, and committee chairs wield a great deal of control over the direction a hearing will take. One chaired by Councilman Zimmerman might very well have had a different outcome.
There are still avenues to pursue. The matter is far from settled, and meanwhile Austinites should avoid drinking the city’s tap water as many have already begun to do.
The Fluoride Free Updater Monday, July 27, 2015
Greetings, Fellow Fluoride Fighters:
We made a great showing at the Public Utilities Committee meeting on June 17. To all who came: many thanks. To everybody: let’s do it again, even bigger and better, on August 19.
At last month’s historic PUC meeting vice-chair Don Zimmerman (Dist. 6), acting as chair in the absence on maternity leave of chair Delia Garza (Dist. 2), introduced a resolution (Item 4) to consider ending water fluoridation in Austin. Our side was ably represented by the formal presentations of Dr. Griffin Cole DDS and Neil Carman, PhD, as well as several citizens communication speakers including Laura Pressley, Ph.D. The fluoride pushers’ reps, Jamet Pichette of Health & Human Services and Jane Burazer of Austin Water Utility, stumbled nervously through their scripts in the absence of Dr. Philip Huang, HHS’ chief medical officer, who was out of town. At least 35 anti-fluoridation supporters (and none pro-F) were present, most signed up to speak or donate time. Unfortunately, many did not get the opportunity owing to time constraints. Their presence, however, was duly noted and vital to carrying the message to the Committee that this issue is extremely important to the citizens of Austin. Ultimately, the three councilmembers present voted to table the matter pending further study and take it up again at their next meeting, in August.
The August 19 meeting will differ from June’s in that committee chair Garza–back from leave–will be presiding. But we have some great news: she has placed fluoridation on the agenda. (thank you, Ms. Garza!) So we have the same challenge ahead as last month: we need lots of people to come prepared to speak or donate time–or simply show, by their presence, that Austinites strongly oppose the addition of a toxic fluoride chemical to our drinking water.
Actually, next month’s challenge will be even greater, because the dental establishment will be present in force and champing at the bit to spew their cut-and-paste ADA/CDC propaganda. We know this because they have already issued a recruitment notice. We also hear that Dr. Huang is most eager to attend and do the same.
Please plan to attend and sign up to speak, or simply register your position on paper. Also, call the members of the Committee: Zimmerman, Garza, Ellen Troxclair (Dist. 8) and Ann Kitchen (Dist. 5) to request they vote to move fluoridation to the full Council for consideration and to voice your opposition. to a practice now known to be particularly harmful to babies and young children. If you prefer, you can email them from here.
A reminder will be sent out prior to the meeting. Meanwhile, mark your calendars:
Wednesday, August 19, 3:00 p.m., City Hall council chambers
See you there.
City Council Health & Human Services Committee
In case you might wonder what’s happened since our last post 3 months ago: The answer is a lot. For two weeks–between February 17 and March 3–an anti-fluoridation PSA aired weekdays on the popular Dr. Oz TV show. Dovetailing perfectly, a March article by Dr. Joan Sefcik, DDS appeared in the popular local health monthly Natural Awakenings, keeping the message fresh for another month. The 1-2 combo sparked an alarmed defense reaction by the ordinarily silent-on-fluoride Austin Statesman, which, amusingly, took the precaution of first disabling their comments section.
Against that backdrop, the new, larger but far less experienced (91% freshman) Council took up its serious work of governing an explosively-growing city with myriad problems lurking beneath its prosperous, high tech gloss. Affordability issues, traffic congestion, planning and zoning nightmares, skyrocketing utilities rates, budgetary shortfalls, poverty (yes, poverty in Austin)–all consequences of uncontrolled growth. all vitally important.
So what are the prospects for our single issue–an end to fluoridation–gaining traction? Where does that fit into the new scheme of things? The City of Austin is not known for giving high priority to health issues unless accompanied by grant money of some kind or other (it’s just accepted $183,906 in funding from the Texas Department of State Health Services for Ebola preparedness and response). So the mass poisoning of our population with fluoride, though important, will hardly be seen as a front-burner item unless we work very diligently to keep it at the fore.
Still, our chances are far better than they were under the prior regime, during which then-Mayor Leffingwell famously declared that on the fluoride issue he answers only to the CDC, not the citizens of Austin. Mayor Adler has expressed openness to a re-examination of fluoridation, noting widespread opposition to the practice both here and beyond. And although we cannot read the new Council’s minds, we believe that several of them are open as well.
The main take-away at this point is that much of the work of the 10-1 City Council will originate in the numerous Committees of Council. For our purposes, the most relevant committee will be Health and Human Services (above), which meets at 4:00 p.m. on the first Monday of each month in City Council chambers, Items approved in committee will be sent to the full Council for further consideration–though how smoothly that process will go with an even-numbered committee remains to be seen.
Like City Council, the Committee offers a citizens’ communication period for the public to speak on non-agenda items. Their signup procedure differs from the regular City Council citizens’ communication in that it takes place just before the meeting. Although speaker slots are only 2 minutes in length, several people can coordinate to get their names in the signup sheet in sequence, adding up to a single longer presentation. Which is exactly what two FFA members did at the May 4th meeting (here). Our purpose was to document the absurdity of the final sentence in Austin Water Utility’s “advisory” regarding the mixing of infant formula with fluoridated tapwater:
Back in 2011, Fluoride Free Austin won a hard-fought battle to have the City issue (as has been done in numerous other places) a notice alerting new parents that mixing formula with city tapwater could increase the possibility of their baby developing dental fluorosis. The message, we assumed, would be some variation on the wording of the most recent CDC guideline, itself already much diluted from the original strong warning. Imagine our surprise, when the “advisory” was at last unveiled, to discover a concluding sentence that seemingly negates what went before. This ill-advised addition, which directly contradicts the CDC and ADA positions, was traced to the personal opinion of a pediatrician without direct ties to either.
The don’t-take-this-advice advice, we can safely assume, was tacked on by then-Travis County PHHS director David Lurie and/or medical officer Philip Huang. Hopefully the current director will be less tolerant of such misleading messaging. Meanwhile, it continues to appear in the annual water quality report and in bilingual fliers available at WIC centers, and remains posted on the City’s website.
It’s fitting here to mention that the Austin/Travis County Public Health and Human Services Department has a new director, Shannon Jones III. Jones, previously deputy director, assumed the position last month upon the abrupt and slightly mysterious departure of his predecessor Carlos Rivera. We wish him well in his new post. Feel free to contact him and politely express your desire to end fluoridation as soon as possible. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beginning tomorrow (Tuesday Feb. 17) and for the next two weeks, the special anti-fluoridation PSA seen above will be aired locally during the popular Dr. Oz TV program. Dr. Oz appears on Fox weekdays from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Austin area. Narrating the 1-minute message is Ed Begley an actor best known for his television role on St. Elsewhere and a dedicated conservationist in his own right. The International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine has generously underwritten the first two-week block of air time.
Because we feel it’s important that this message reach a wider audience than can be achieved through the viewership of a single program, we are launching an INDIEGOGO campaign for funding to purchase more Austin TV spots in multiple venues. We’re offering a variety of healthy lifestyle perks to contributors of $15 or more, but donations of any size are welcome. Those who are able to help, please make your donations through the INDIEGOGO website. Thank you!
This PSA by Ed Begley, star of the St. Elsewhere TV series and a prominent environmental activist, has been shown in various venues since its YouTube debut last April–most recently in Dallas on the Dr. Oz show.
Austinites will soon get their own chance to see Begley’s message on daytime TV. Beginning this coming Tuesday, February 17, it will run for two weeks during the Oz program (perhaps longer if sufficient funding exists). Dr. Oz airs here on Fox from 3 to 4 p.m. weekdays. Be sure to watch.
The first two weeks’ airing of the PSA’s has been generously underwritten by the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine. An Indiegogo campaign to raise additional funds will be announced soon.
On February 12, Walt Olenick became the first member of Fluoride Free Austin to speak before the new Austin City Council. His talk was respectful, informative, and consumed less than the alotted 3 minutes.
His object, in this first 2015 appearance at City Hall was simply to make the Council members aware that it’s commonplace in Austin to have doubts about the value of fluoridation. To reinforce the point, he handed out the flyer Water Fluoridation is NOT a Fringe Issue in Austin, available from our website. The flyer cites and graphically illustrates the results of a 2012 survey by KEYE-TV (our CBS affiliate) in which roughly half the Austinites surveyed said they consider fluoridation a waste of money. What could be more mainstream than that?
Disappointingly, nobody on the dais had a single comment or question about the material presented, in stark contrast to the other seven citizens’ communication speakers, with whom they interacted freely. Clearly the word is already out: fluoride is a subject to be approached with extreme caution. (One councilmember had reason to feel particularly uncomfortable–the notion that fluoridation opponents are “crazy” had been the springboard for a vile smear campaign against an opponent.) And now here was half of Austin unmasked as sharing those same outlandish views. Instant cognitive dissonance!
Still, the immutable facts are before them, and we shall see what we shall see. Will the new Council open their minds enough to allow some enlightenment in and then vote for what’s right rather than what’s politically expedient? Or will they freeze into the hard mold of political careerism that has so long worked against the interests of Austin’s everyday citizens? Only time will tell.
Little did we know, when we posted our Fluoride Follies entry of June 21, 2013, that the blog would be down for an indeterminate period. The dead time was the result of a convergence of unforeseen events, but even during the hiatus, life went on. Three major events occurred in Texas during that time, and I’ll summarize them here. (Portland, Oregon’s spectacular 2014 victory over the promoters of forced fluoridation–including a 100% bought-out City Council and Mayor–was covered on our website).
The first big change came with the adoption of a new form of Austin municipal government which gave Austinites district representation for the first time. Previously, all of the 7-member (including the Mayor) City Council was chosen at large, through city-wide voting. That system not only made running for office cost prohibitive for all but the wealthiest but created a Council of members clustered in an upscale area, without specific connection or responsibility to the residents of other parts of town. In November 2013, following an intensive public education campaign by the grassroots group Austinites for Geographical Representation, Austinites went to the polls to vote in a new system: one comprising 10 geographic districts to represent our 860,000-plus population, plus a Mayor still elected at large. (It’s fit to add here that the outcome went very much against the desires of local Democratic Party power brokers.)
Following that triumph, exactly one year later, our first Austin City Council under the new system was elected this past November. More on the new Council in future posts.
Finally, up the road in Dallas, there was energetic year-long anti-fluoridation campaign led by Regina Imburgia with the staunch support of Dallas City Councilman Sheffie Kadane. Imburgia organized groups to speak regularly at City Hall; held public educational events with high-profile guest speakers including Dr. Paul Connett; and creatively publicized the cause via Facebook pages of Activists for Truth and Safe Water North Texas and the website dogsagainstfluoridation.com. Her team’s efforts won the hearts and minds of Dallasites, but not that of the Council, which, as mostly career politicians or wanabees–acted in their own self-perceived interests rather than those of the people who elected them. On January 28–in defiance of a recent poll showing 72% of the public opposed to fluoridation—they voted 13-2 to adopt a 3-year purchase contract for fluorosilicic acid with Mosaic Co. Apart from the remarks of Sheffie Kadane and self-appointed spokesman for the fluoride industry Rick Callahan, there was no discussion. Not a single other Council member (out of 15) had a word to say or a question to ask. Adam Medrano, timidly seconding Kadane’s motion to deny the Mosaic contract, was Kadane’s sole ally; Scott Griggs and Dwaine R. Caraway, earlier considered potential supporters, were last-minute bailouts. You can watch the entire proceedings–including the anti-fluoridation speakers’ presentations–in the video at the top of this page.
Given the energy, creativity and determination of the Dallas activists, we can be sure they won’t let the matter rest with a decision so against the public will. We look forward to hearing more from them in the future.