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City of Spokane to study feasibility of fluoridating water

Rebecca White/SPR

The Spokane City Council approved a contract to study the feasibility of fluoridating the city of Spokane’s water supply Monday night.

Spokane is the largest city in Washington state not to fluoridate its water supply. Several dentists, and medical providers say that’s harming the city’s children, and those who can’t afford dental care.

Dr. Elisabeth Warder is the dental director at CHAS Health.

“I also see on a daily basis the consequences of dental disease - there's pain, there's infection, fear, there's lack of self-confidence, loss of work,” Warder said. “I've personally seen the difference in the teeth of patients who live in Cheney, which is adequately fluoridated, compared to people who live here in Spokane.”

Those who oppose fluoridation, such as Spokane City Councilman Michael Cathcart, argue voters should decide. The last time fluoridation was on the ballot was more than 20 years ago.

“I can't in good faith support moving forward unless I know there is a commitment for the voters to have a say when this is all said and done," Cathcart said.

Councilman Cathcart introduced an amendment to hold a city-wide vote once the study is completed, but was overruled by his fellow councilmembers. Both he, and Councilman Jonathan Bingle voted against conducting the study.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward also called into the meeting, to say she was disappointed the city council did not adopt Cathcart’s amendment.

In addition to a contract, the city council approved a resolution promising to hold a public dialogue once the study is completed and released to the public.

The resolution and contracted were negotiated by the mayor and several city council members with the Arcora Foundation. That organization has provided a grant for the city of Spokane to pursue fluoridation, and will fund the study instead of taxpayers.

The Arcora Foundation is also a financial supporter of Spokane Public Radio.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the study will not be completed until August 2023 at the earliest, and said there will be a public process, and opportunities for the community to weigh in then.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.