Take the Teeth Out of Cincinnati Water Costs

Take the Teeth Out of Cincinnati Water Costs

Take the Teeth Out of Cincinnati Water Costs to Strengthen, Audit and Grow our Local Economy!

Opinion by Speak Up Cincinnati Founder, Jason Lee Overbey

Some of you won’t like this opinion. Grab some coffee and get ready!

You probably know by now that Cincinnati City Council, after rejecting a 7.5% water rate increase, did approve a 4% rate increase to take effect January 01, 2015.

Just today news came out that Cincinnati’s recovery from the recession rates 100 out of the 150 largest U.S. cities.  And, Cincinnati ranked 121 out of 150 for “overall” economic environment.

To the Mayor’s credit, we do have a balanced budget – not without controversy and imperfections. Still, it would behoove our leaders to take a look at every possible economy our City can take. Will the elected and the appointed adhere to their self-imposed goal of making Cincinnati’s (and thus, the region’s) economy the strongest in the Midwest? Perhaps they can take a look at this – an honest look – as part of a more comprehensive and far-reaching strategy.


Before you throw your laptop out the window, I assure you this piece is not about a conspiracy. It isn’t about government population control theories or Nazis… or even health benefits, per se. I am well aware that conspiracy theories surrounding the use of fluoride in water abound. This is not one of those.

This is purely an economic (and potentially discriminatory) consideration. So please stay with me a bit.

Our leaders would do well to take an honest and thorough look at the cost Cincinnati Water Works has in relation to the fluoridation of our water supply. It’s evident that John Cranley has no qualms about commissioning task forces to address issues in our City. A balanced and fair fluoridation committee could save us a lot of dollars. (Balanced means not overstocked with dentists and health workers)

How many dollars? According to the City of Cincinnati’s searchable expenditure database, in 2011 CWW spent $407, 096 just for the chemical fluorine alone. In 2012, the cost was $387, 176. That’s almost $800,000 for a two year period.

Clearly, the above costs do not include operations, labor and maintenance of water fluoridation equipment. Some cities pay up to $600,000 a year or more for those combined costs. (Speak Up Cincinnati was not readily able to obtain CWW costs for maintenance and upkeep)

Ending fluoride treatment for CWW could save the City approximately $1mil a year. Please… take that in for a moment. 


Since 2007, more than 200 municipalities throughout the U.S. have taken a look at the fluoridation costs of their water systems and chosen to end the practice. Just last year Portland, Oregon was set afire with the debate over adding fluoride to their water supply. The citizens shot the measure down voting 60.5% against fluoridating their water. The two main arguments against it were the costs and educated skepticism based on recent findings about the true efficacy – and necessity – of America fluoridating water supplies.

Other local lawmakers, in addition to the cost savings and concerns over real benefits of fluoridation, have raised ethical and legal concerns over the practice. They cite it is forcing medical treatment upon populations without their consent. The type of fluoride cities use is not organic. Without a vote from the populous, they ask, is it Constitutional? Cincinnati hasn’t voted on the issue since the 70s, when Article XI was added to the City Charter making it illegal for CWW to add fluoride to the water supply without a vote. Obviously it passed in the 70s. Since then, however, many new peer reviewed findings have been released raising reasonable doubts about its efficacy. We have a much larger collection of information about fluoridation now. It is time to revisit the issue. And it is my understanding that no vote is required in an election to cease the activity.

The time has come for our region to look at the issue again.

Several other Ohio cities have decided against it as well, including: Springfield – 2005, Yellow Springs – 2011, Wooster – 2000, Xenia – 2009 and Lancaster – 2004.


You can scour the web for information about fluoride and the supply is bountiful. As I did with my research for this article, you have to check and recheck and consider every source with care. After filtering out the forums, the conspiracy theories and the unscientific data, I found myself on the other end of four solid days of investigation about the topic. The main takeaway I had personally was that the dental industry and its lobbyists are the most hardcore advocates for the fluoridation of water. Outside that realm their seems to be no real consensus. However, and interestingly, over the past 3 to 5 years, more reports are being published that shed real concern over the necessity of the practice.

Without going into great detail, the main argument for fluoride as an additive is for the prevention of tooth decay and the promotion of oral health. Apart from this, advocates for fluoride addition don’t seem to have other validations. The rest of their research is spent on countering claims against its use.

Here are some other contentions made by the camps for fluoridation:

1. It is accessible by everyone through water.

2. It is safe.

3. Saves money in dental care and corrective costs.

4. Removal of fluoride will disproportionately affect poorer children who have limited access to other fluoride sources.

5. Claims against water fluoridation are junk science.

6. In Ohio, the Law mandates fluoridation.



The research available against using fluoride in the water supply is mounting – as well as the cogency of their arguments. We don’t have time to go into them. I encourage you to research on your own before you decide. It would be expected that any task force commissioned by the Mayor would go to great lengths to compile peer reviewed evidence from both camps. And, the research process does not take that long.

1. Since the 1970s fluoride has become almost omnipresent in toothpastes, gels and mouthwashes.

2. Therefore, there is access for everyone.

3. So far the consensus is that fluoride added in water is safe. With more studies coming out, however, concerns are being raised about overexposure. Fluoride occurs naturally and organically in some foods and other sources, it is in dental care products, it is added to the water supply, and now organizations are adding it to salt and milk worldwide. The federal Department of Health and Human Services recommended reducing fluoride put into the water supply. The government has also told parents with infant children to use caution when reconstituting baby formula with fluoridated water due to concerns of overexposure. There are also concerns about fluoride being passed in a mother’s breast milk.

4. Although safe, as far as we can tell, the chemical fluoride we use in water supplies is mostly a byproduct of the manufacture of fertilizer and not the same as in toothpastes.

5. Too much exposure to fluoride (now that its presence has increased) causes fluorosis – a mostly cosmetic problem that causes white or yellow spots on teeth. However, many doctors, dentists and chemistry professionals are coming out with concerns. They cite that spotted teeth can indicate other bones in the body are absorbing too much fluoride which can lead to fracture. The CDC released a report in 2010 linking fluoride to an increase in fluorsis among children 12 to 15 years old.

6. In Cincinnati, potential for overexposure disproportionately impacts the African American community. 44.8% of the City population is black with a large portion living at or below poverty level (estimates at 40-50%) with little or no access to education of, testing and diagnosis of fluorosis conditions. However, the elimination of fluoride from the water supply will not disproportionately affect African American communities since fluoride is almost ubiquitous in over-the-counter dental care products and is only applied topically. The CDC reports, along with other studies, that cases of fluorosis are on the rise in the United States.

7. The CDC released a report in 2005 showing that black children in the United States suffer significantly higher rates and more severe forms of fluorosis than any other segment of the population. Thus, if left unchecked as a public policy, fluoridation is tantamount to racial discrimination – albeit unintentional. Regardless of intention, it is the duty of elected officials to see if racial disparity exists – even if committed unwittingly. To my knowledge, no cases have been tried in court to argue this point – yet.

8. Fluoride as an additive is used to treat people, not the water itself. So why do treatment plants govern its administration? Is there adequate medical strictures and supervision as such?

9. Fluoride is most effective when used topically, as in toothpastes and other dental care products. Its efficacy when ingested, as with water, has been highly scrutinized over the past 10 years.

10. With fluoride so widely available from natural and over-the-counter sources – as well as water itself (in low amounts) without additives – adding it to the water supply is no longer a justifiable government expense. Putting it into tap water is an imprecise way of distribution. This is because how much fluoride a person absorbs depends on their weight and the amount of water they consume. Also, with some portions of the population consuming more fluoridated water (patients with diabetes who drink more, athletes, tea drinkers [tea plants absorb high levels of fluoride from soil]), how can efficacy be measured?

Therefore, no one really knows what dosage of fluoride a person gets from water and makes the benefits of water fluoridation hard to quantify in scientific studies – let alone in auditing a local municipality budget. What is the baseline? What is the control? This inequality in dosing is a factor, also, in the widely varying conclusions of different studies – for and against – fluoride. One may very well step away from an honest investigation into the topic feeling as if no one knows what is going on with fluoridation.

11. Fluoridated cities are still facing dental crises – including Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Look up the numbers. They are published. How can we justify the cost of adding it to water if the #1 argument for it isn’t bearing fruit? Increasing access to prevention and care is the only real solution for the problem.

12. Dr. Heyroth, from Cincinnati’s own Kettering Institute, although a fierce advocate for fluoride treatment, testified under Congressional oath that the advice for people with kidney trouble is to drink fluoride-free spring water – 50% of fluoride is removed by the kidneys.  1 in 10 Americans have some form of chronic kidney disease (CKD) with numbers rising every year since 2000. Who represents this demographic?

13. Fluoride is not meant to be ingested or swallowed. It is meant to be applied, and is most effective, topically as with over-the-counter dental care products. Thus, part of the reason for warnings against swallowing toothpaste.

14. As mentioned previously, public water fluoridation ignores completely the principle of medical consent by the masses of those who drink it. (The FDA does not have say over water fluoridation. This was left to the EPA)

15. The Fluoride Action Network claims the pro-fluoridation community is purely a political game with powerful interests having high financial stakes in fluoridation.

16. Fluoridation is not, and never will be, a water quality issue. It is a medical issue. So why do water treatment plants oversee it?

17. With access to more fluoride sources, the point of saving money for preventative dental care by way of fluoridation of water is moot.

18. Newer studies questioning water fluoridation are not junk science with more peer reviewed reports being published.

19. Ohio law allows for cities to stop fluoridation of their water supply. However, they do only allow 240 days for referendum.


Since jurisdictions outside of Cincinnati City limits contract with CWW for their supply, the Mayor’s task force would also have to look at whether or not Cincinnati residents solely pay for fluoridation (Speak Up Cincinnati could not obtain numbers in time for this publication). We do know that rates are higher in those contractual jurisdictions – but this is due to capital costs included by CWW.

Cincinnati already shares a disproportionate cost of regional social services and holds key assets that benefit the entire region while being obligated to absorb the entire costs of those assets. This city-suburb-regional divide has recently raised its head in the battle over funding the salvation of Cincinnati icons. We need to keep this in mind with our water costs, too.


If you have paid attention, I am in favor of putting an end to the fluoridation of Cincinnati’s water supply and lowering – however small – Cincinnati water costs. If not already clear, I wanted to make it so. This is an opinion piece. But I want to encourage you – and the City – to seriously explore both sides. I am convinced any thinking person will come to the same conclusion.

And again, this is not about health or government conspiracies or pollution for me – not mainly. This is about money. This is about questioning a policy from the 1960s in the light of new, actionable intelligence. Those other arguments may warrant investigation but with so many conflicting studies, leaving even the experts shaking their heads, they will only serve to support the cost-saving considerations of cessation.

Other than money, my only other major concerns are 1) racial discrimination in the application of the water policy and 2) the other Jurisdictions’  share of the costs of the  fluoridation process – if we don’t end it.

I stated in the beginning, with CWW rate increases and slow recovery from the recession, Cincinnati needs to look at EVERY area it can. Councilmember Wendell Young, when faced with the CWW rate increases, even proposed bottling and selling Cincinnati water since we have some of the best water in the nation. Pepsi and Coke already do this with their Aquafina and Dasani brands – they are both merely filtered tap water. The City of Hamilton tried it with discouraging results. Cincinnati has more resources and could come up – we pray – with better branding of the bottle itself for widespread distribution.

If we genuinely desire to become the leader of cities in the Midwest we have to do more. We have to dig more. We have to hold ourselves and our leaders to higher standards. From what I have ascertained from data from polls, speeches from City Council and the Mayor, and local business vision statements and from activist groups – progress and leadership is what everyone wants for Cincinnati. Hard work and open discussion, even if it is “only” to save $1mil a year, is what it will take.

If this topic gets out for Cincinnati citizens to… speak up about, the debate will get furious. Trust me. You’ll glean that from looking at other city debates on the issue. But at least we will have the dialogue.

So let’s start a conversation about it. Let’s get some numbers to clear up what I may have missed or misrepresented (yeah, it’s possible). I want to know more. I want to learn. Let’s do some studying with our local leaders – we have some of the smartest people around. And, if nothing else, it is a long overdue visitation on the matter. We are tardy to the party!

Please… email me or comment below.



Let Them Drink Pop: Detroit’s Water Crisis & A Lesson for Cincinnati in Local Governing

Let Them Drink Pop: Detroit’s Water Crisis & A Lesson for Cincinnati in Local Governing

This post originally appeared on virallysuppressed.com as, “Let Them Drink Pop: Detroit’s Water Crisis & The Fight for Basic Human Rights in the Motor City,” and is republished here with permission from author, Drew Gibson, for Speak Up Cincinnati.

Cincinnati, thankfully and warily, is in no financial crisis of Its own. Nor do we have a water crisis. Nor do we have an “Emergency Manager” (Detroit’s Kevyn Orr). So how does this story relate to us here? Aside from the fact that they are our brothers and sisters, the appointment of an Emergency Manager in Detroit’s financial crisis is a lesson for all local governments to study. With the citizens and City Council of Cincinnati, this very moment, reviewing the local City Charter (our local constitution), also considering what powers our Mayor has during emergencies HERE, this article from Drew Gibson is more apropos for us than appears at first glance.

Speak Up Cincinnati is honored to reproduce the article here with our note. Please read it. Take it in. What can a manager of this type, without a vote, do in a city like Cincinnati. It behooves us to take heed. It behooves us to participate in the public meetings concerning the review of the Cincinnati Charter! Let’s hope we take a lesson from our friends in Michigan.

During the Super Bowl earlier this year, Chrysler unveiled the latest iteration of the “Imported From Detroit” advertising campaign that has been such a key part of their rebranding efforts in the wake of their filing for bankruptcy in 2009. The commercial starts off with a montage of your usual idealized American imagery—cowboys riding horses, cheerleaders leading cheers, sweet middle-aged waitresses bringing bacon and eggs to grizzled farmers at a Route 66 diner—accompanied by the sound of Bob Dylan’s raspy Minnesotan drawl asking us rhetorically if, “there’s anything more American than America?” a question which pretty well sets the tone for the rest of the ad considering the implied answer is a 283 horsepower “hell no!” From there the ad touches on the Motor City’s automotive pedigree and its role in making America the country it is today, with Bob telling us that,“making the best…making the finest, takes conviction.” and letting us know that, “you can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line.” All of these laudable, yet trite, sentiments are designed to stir up our pride in our country and in the city of Detroit—to make us associate the glory of our collective past and the hard-scrabble can do aspects of our national character with the Chrysler brand—and in this respect the ads are pretty effective. The only problem is that these passionate evocations of Chrysler’s commitment to the working men and women of America and Motown bears little resemblance to reality.

You see, when Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy 5 years ago, the laborers that are lionized in their “Imported From Detroit” ads took the overwhelming brunt of the punitive measures that were handed out. In the wake of Chrysler’s restructuring and ultimate sale to Italian automaker Fiat, 4 factories were shut down789 dealerships—and an estimated 37,000 jobs—were lost, cost-of-living wage adjustments were eliminated and a two-tier wage scale was created that allows Chrysler to pay new hires half of what they pay their more experienced workers. Meanwhile, on the backs of these massive cuts and with the aid of $12.5 billion dollars in taxpayer aide—$1.3 billion of which will never be recovered—the now 100% Italian owned Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is making out like a bandit, posting a net profit of $1.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013 alone. As was the case with the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008 and the recent corporate thievery involved in the Patriot Coal bankruptcy case which I have covered before in great detail, the auto industry and government officials have used our nation’s legal system to burden ordinary citizens with the collateral damage from financial crises that they had nothing to do with.

One of the most instrumental players in the Chrysler bankruptcy case was Kevyn Orr, a partner at the massive law firm Jones Day who was charged with the task of bringing Chrysler back to life as expeditiously and ruthlessly as possible. Orr carved up Chrysler with surgical precision, completing the reorganization of the company within 42 days and raking in more than $1 million in legal fees during the process. As a reward for his work in the bankruptcy case, Orr was named by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder as the “Emergency Manager” of the City of Detroit in 2013, a title that is about as ominous and Orwellian as anything this side of the Department of Homeland Security. As Emergency Manager, Orr has essentially been given free reign to do with the City of Detroit as he sees fit, without any interference from pesky, democratically elected city council members and officials, who are essentially impotent during the time the city is judged to be in a Financial Emergency.

Detroit Water Rally

Didn’t vote for him? Doesn’t matter. Governor Snyder’s vote is the only one that counts.

According to the Michigan legislature’s ironically titled Local Financial Stability and Choice Act—an act that was passed during a lame duck session of Michigan’s legislature and is little more than a repackaged version of another act that was repealed by Michigan voters in the 2012 elections—an Emergency Manager is essentially a de jure dictator of a local government and/or school district during a fiscal crisis. The Emergency Manager can usurp the power of all government officials, modify union contracts, alter pensions for city workers, sell off public assets and exercise complete authority over local school districts. Oh yeah, and he can also work with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department Board of Water Commissioners to shut off the water supply for residents who are behind on their payments by as little as 60 days or $150, because—according to the Emergency Manager’s stated logic—the best way to stimulate a struggling local economy is by shutting off the water supply to more 17,000 of said economy’s poorest and most vulnerable members.

The City of Detroit’s water policy, which the United Nations has termed, “a violation of the human right to water.”, is just the most recent instance of a disturbing trend in American politics to reframe problems related to globalization, corporate greed and rising income inequality on a growing class of unemployed, underpaid and overworked citizens. Emergency Manager Orr and his stable of bankruptcy lawyers have tried mightily to cast these water shutoffs as a matter of economic necessity and personal responsibility, painting themselves as honest businessmen and the citizens who can’t pay their water bills as “scofflaws” and “people gaming the system.” The only problem is that this neither of these assertions are based in truth.

As a cost saving measure, shutting off the water supply for the city’s poorest residents makes no sense. Due to recent sweeping layoffs within the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, the city was forced to mete out a $5 million contract to a private demolition company to shut off the water to about 17,000 homes which have an average outstanding water bill of only $540. If the city truly wanted to get their money back, they would’ve started hounding Joe Louis Arena, Ford Field, Palmer Park Golf Club and half of the commercial and industrial buildings in the city who owe roughly $30 million in overdue water fees. Likewise, the idea that the failure of Detroit residents to pay their water bills is simply a “choice” that they are making in an effort to avoid payment for basic services collapses under the weight of inquiry. When your city has lost 63% of its population since 1950, sports a poverty rate of 42%, has a per capita income that is less than half the national average, and has had its water rates increased by nearly 120% over the past decade with no accompanying rise in wages, any choice that is left to you is between the Scylla of unpaid utilities and the Charybdis of overdue rent and empty cupboards.

Detroit Water Rally

Water is a human right. Greed is not.

No, as is so often the case in this age of corporate hegemony, the Detroit water shutoffs are principally about privatization and the potential to turn a profit on a publicly held utility. For the past few weeks, Emergency Manager Orr and his staff have been considering at least 13 separate bids from private parties who are interested in bidding for the rights to city’s water department and the recent spate of cutoffs is seen by many as an attempt from the Emergency Manager to paint the department as a profitable enterprise, which it may very well be for whatever company it is that ends up controlling it. However, case studies from all across the country and the globe have shown that the benefits of water privatization begin and end with companies doing the privatizing, with private operators proving to be no more efficient or technically sound than their public counterparts while contributing to massive rate hikes for citizens, as is the case in the UK where the price of privately controlled water has increased by 50 percent over the past two decades despite a lack of change in operating costs. Despite what Governor Snyder and Emergency Manager Orr might tell you, privatizing Detroit’s water system is not a magic bullet that will fix the city’s financial woes. In reality, it’s just your average lead and copper bullet being fired at the working class residents of Detroit so they’ll scatter and make way for the city’s gentrification.

As you may have heard, more than 1,000 protestors converged on Detroit’s Cobo Hall this past Friday to let Emergency Manager Orr and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department know what they thought of a policy that denied tens of thousands of Detroiters of their access to clean water. The rally, which was put on by National Nurses United, Robin Hood Tax USA, Moratorium-MI.Org and a host of other great progressive organizations, was a true testament to the resolve of the citizens of Detroit and their allies across the country, and presented the world with a unified face that made it clear that it would not accept a world in which water is a luxury and not a natural human right. Through the actions of these passionate activists, community leaders and citizens, along with brief remarks from actor Mark Ruffalo and Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), the rally gained international media attention and shined a none-too-flattering light on the inhumane behavior of Emergency Manager Orr and his staff. In fact, the portrayal of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department’s behavior was so damaging that, just today, the department has come out to say that they are suspending all water shut offs for the next 15 days. It is a minor victory for water rights advocates and the people of Detroit, but it is a victory nonetheless, and one which they have desperately needed after months and years of having their voices roundly ignored by the city’s corporate and political elite.

However, to appropriate an expression from the realm of drug and alcohol treatment, striving for social justice is like trying to walk up a down escalator. It’s possible to climb your way to the top, but the process is long, it is exhausting and if you stop moving for too long you end up right back at the bottom where you started. This moratorium on shut offs will mean nothing if things go back to business as usual when the 15 days are up. The enthusiasm and awareness that has been drummed up by the rally on Friday will not help the people of Detroit preserve their rights to clean water if in a month all of the major media outlets are ignoring them once again and many of the people who attended the rally—out-of-staters like myself in particular—are putting the struggle on the back burner and focusing their energies solely on other issues. This is a long an arduous process, something that many of world-weary veterans who cut their teeth during the civil rights, women’s rights and LGBT rights movements of the 60s and 70s are well aware of and that young twenty-somethings are just beginning to understand. In order to protect the water rights of Detroiters, as well as their rural brethren in the hills of Appalachia and people struggling all across this nation of ours, we have to care more about each other than the Kevyn Orr’s of the world care about money. It’s a tall order, but given the fire and willpower I saw assembled in Hart Plaza on Friday, I have no doubt that it can—and will—be done, because while Governor Snyder can import as many green-eyed lawyers as he wants to run Detroit, he can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman marching in the picket line.

Drew Gibson

Drew Gibson is the writer and social media director for “Virally Suppressed”, a blog that covers a multitude of issues related to social justice and inequities in American life, with a particular focus on Appalachia, the Midwest and the Deep South. Drew returned to his hometown of Cincinnati last year after getting his Masters in Social Work from The University of Maryland-Baltimore and working for the Office of Nation Drug Control Policy, where the federal government paid him with 2 M&M’s boxes from the White House Easter Egg Roll. Drew is not at all bitter about this.

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