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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane will study fluoride with a $4 million grant

Spokane City Hall  (Christopher Anderson)

With a $4 million grant in hand, the city of Spokane can study the feasibility and cost of adding fluoride to its drinking water.

If Spokane ultimately decides to move forward with fluoridation, the study will be paid for by the grant from the Arcora Foundation, the philanthropic nonprofit of dental insurer Delta Dental. If it balks and chooses not to raise levels of fluoride to federally recommended levels, the city will have to pay back The Arcora Foundation any of the money it spent.

The Spokane City Council approved the grant agreement, which was revised just hours before the meeting, after listening to hours of impassioned testimony from both sides of the fluoride debate on Monday.

Monday’s action by the council was immediately considered a victory by advocates of fluoridation, a practice the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states can reduce tooth decay in children and adults by 25%.

“This represents significant progress to ensure everyone in Spokane receives the proven health benefits of fluoridated water,” Arcora Foundation President and CEO Vanetta Abdellatif said in a statement.

Opponents of fluoride railed against the grant agreement, arguing it would put the city on the inevitable path to fluoridation.

“This is not over,” anti-fluoride group Safe Water Spokane posted on its Facebook page following the vote. “Much can still be done. We plan to work with all of you, and other local grassroots campaigns in the coming weeks and months to protect the safety of our drinking water.”

The issue divided officials as well.

Better Health Together, which raised $1 million of the $4 million grant from various agencies and organizations, lauded the council’s decision . But Mayor Nadine Woodward reiterated her criticism of the council in a post to her social media accounts Tuesday.

She wrote that the council’s “acceptance of a $4 million grant to fund it puts the city on the path to fluoridation. The #Spokane voters have been robbed of a PUBLIC VOTE!”

The grant agreement with the Arcora Foundation spans 20 years, but is essentially broken into two time periods, according to City Council President Breean Beggs.

It was the less severe of two options on the council’s table. Hours prior, it had indefinitely deferred an emergency ordinance that would have ordered the city to add fluoride to its water.

But late changes to the grant agreement were key to securing the votes of council members – who ultimately approved it by a 6-1 margin and were skeptical of committing the city fully to fluoride.

“I do not believe this locks us in; I think it does the opposite,” Councilwoman Candace Mumm said Monday night.

At least three council members have expressed interest in using the information from a feasibility study as the backdrop for a new public advisory vote. If held, it would be the first time Spokane voters have weighed in on fluoridation since 2000, when it was narrowly rejected.

The city has four years to study the feasibility, design and engineering of a system to add fluoride to the drinking water supply. If it drops the endeavor before adding fluoride to the water, the city must pay Arcora the full amount it has spent on planning.

If the city moves forward with fluoridation, but later abandons the idea, it must pay the foundation back a prorated amount of the grant money it has spent – 5% for every unfluoridated year left on the 20-year agreement.

“If we didn’t take the grant we would have to pay, with ratepayer money, for those feasibility and cost studies,” Beggs said. “Even if you’re a skeptic, potentially, at least, saves ratepayer money to get the information.”

The city has estimated that the study and design of a fluoridation system would likely take between two and three years.