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Yaroslavsky Responds On Topanga-Malibu Fluoridation
January 31, 2008 - By Lee Michaelson
It was a long time in coming, but members of Coastal Citizens for Safe Drinking Water were gratified when they recently received a letter, dated November 27, 2007, from Los Angeles County Supervisor Yaroslavsky responding to their two previous requests for his intervention in plans, now operative, by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) to fluoridate the drinking water supplied by Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 29 (District 29) to residents of Topanga and Malibu. In his response Yaroslavsky stopped short of calling for a halt to fluoridation, but he agreed with the local safe drinking water activists that the product review data and toxicological studies, if any, submitted by the chemical manufacturers to obtain safety certification of the hydrofluorosilicic acid to be used in the fluoridation process should be made available for public review.
As Yaroslavsky observed in his response, California law requires that any water additive be tested and certified as meeting the specifications of the American National Standards Institue (ANSI) Standard 60 before it can be added to the public water supply. Since the EPA stepped out of the business of regulating water additives in the late 1990s, that role has fallen to the National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF), a private trade association, which charges manufacturers a fee to test their products and certify their compliance with ANSI Standard 60 and other industry standards. Long-term toxicological studies are just one element of the product review data required to be submitted by the manufacturer of water additives to the NSF in order to demonstrate compliance with the ANSI 60 Standard. MWD spokesman Ed Dymally has previously told the Messenger that there are no long-term, peer-reviewed toxicological studies of the safety and efficacy of hydrofluorsilicic acid, arguing that MWD is not required to obtain any such data before adding the chemical to the public water supply and that the certification of these chemicals for use as water additives in the absence of such data is an issue to be taken up with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In his letter, Yaroslavsky writes that he directed County Counsel to research the Citizen groups request for public viewing of the actual dated product-review documents submitted by the manufacturer of the hydrofluosilicic acid to earn certification as California law requires. However, he reports, NSF has refused County Counsels request to produce these documents, asserting that NSF is not a public agency and is therefore not subject to laws, such as the California Public Records Act or the federal Freedom of Information Act, that would compel it to do so. My staff also spoke with NSF staff to determine whether they would voluntarily release these documents. NSF staff has advised us that both the documents submitted by the manufacturers to earn certification and the written report issued by NSF upon certification are considered the private property of the manufacturer, and that therefore NSF does not have the authority to release them.
The position taken by NSF creates a conundrum: California law expressly requires that no chemical or product shall be added to drinking water by a water supplier as part of the treatment process ... unless the chemical or product has been tested and certified as meeting the specifications of [ANSI/NSF] Standard 60.... In this age of deregulation, a private entity, the NSF, performs an essentially public function of testing and certifying the manufacturers compliance with these requirements. However, in light of the unwillingness of NSF to disclose the underlying product safety data, not just the public at large, but even Yaroslavsky, in his position as a director of Water District 29, is denied access to the documents on which NSF bases its (paid) conclusion that the chemical manufacturer and its product has in fact complied with that standard.
Perhaps that is why Yaroslavsky concludes in his letter, I believe the public should have the right to obtain these documents. To that end, Yaroslavsky attached a letter he had written to the MWD requesting that as a part of future bid specifications for the purchase of fluorosilicic acid, bidders supply copies of all documents submitted to NSF to earn certification for the fluorosilicic acid as well as their latest NSF fluorosilicic acid certification test reports. Receipt of these documents by MWD should make them available for public review, assuming that agency does not assert any of the exemptions under the California Public Records Act.
We consider this a real step forward, said Rabyn Blake, one of the organizers of Coastal Citizens for Safe Drinking Water. First and foremost, we are glad to see a dialogue opened between Zev and the community on this important health and safety issue. Relations had been strained with long-time Yaroslavsky supporters after Yaroslavskys press secretary Joel Bellman initially announced that the supervisor did not intend to respond to the Citizens groups September letter seeking his help and that the supervisor declined to comment or meet with the community regarding their concerns about the fluoridation of Topanga and Malibu drinking supplies or his own subsequent decision, as chair of the First 5 LA Board of Commissioners, to approve a $20 million dollar grant to fluoridate additional communities throughout the county. (See Citizens to Zev: Halt Fluoride, and Zev to Citizens: No Comment, Messenger, Vol. 31, No. 20 (Oct. 4, 2007).) The situation worsened as MWD commenced fluoridation in the community and District 29 released a mailer which many viewed as falsely reassuring on the safety of the process. On November 13, Coastal Citizens for Safe Drinking Water sent a second letter to Yaroslavsky, pressing for a response and escalating the rhetoric. We believe it is our right to have a look at this data; that it should be an open book, the group wrote, asking, Why would you choose to keep your supportive Topanga/Malibu constituents in the dark? How many days does it take to prepare an answer? (See County Offers Reassurances While Citzens Group Renews Demand for Proof as Fluoride Start Date Nears, Messenger, Vol. 31, No. 24 (Nov. 29).)
In fact, it appears that back channel efforts were underway to open a more productive dialogue on the fluoridation subject and a response was already in the works. Unfortunately, Yaroslavskys November 28 letter was returned to sender by the Post Office after it arrived in the mailbox of Topangans for a Scenic Community (TASC), which is allowing the Coastal Citizens Safe Drinking Water coalition to share its address. Apparently, the letter did not find its way to the proper hands among the loosely knit Citizens coalition until after the holidays. Once it did, the recipients were pleased with what they found, says Blake.
We were impressed with the time and diligence Zev and his staff obviously devoted to the effort to obtain access to the product safety data for hydrofluorosilicic acid. And we think now Zev may understand something of our frustration. Here you have what is an undeniably toxic chemical, and these are records that should have been made available before MWD started pouring that chemical into Topanga and Malibu drinking water. And theyre still not available, not to us as citizens and taxpayers, not even to Zev and his staff as responsible government officials. If, as we are repeatedly asked to believe by the spin doctors who are promoting fluoridation, this process has such a long-term track record of safety, these records should be readily at hand. In fact, they are not, because the track record isnt there, and we think what Zevs letter shows is that hes beginning to recognize it, said Blake.
Weve always known Zev to be an advocate for our community, added Blake, and this letter is muc