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  • Alex Despain

The director of the Oregon Health Authority has directed his agency to look into whether staffers preparing a survey of children's oral health had inappropriate conversations with pro-fluoride advocates.

Dr. Bruce Goldberg tells the Mercury concerns raised about Upstream Public Health's access to OHA staff, first reported by the Oregonian, created questions about the run-up to the study's release.

"They came up," Goldberg says. "I think it's appropriate we look at them."

The questions arose from e-mails surrounding the release of the 2012 Oregon Smiles Survey, which documented the dental health of the state's school children. That study proved a flashpoint in the city's war over fluoride, since it found cavity rates had gone down statewide—even in unfluoridated Multnomah County.

The e-mails show no evidence that OHA workers colluded with fluoride advocates to delay the report—as anti-fluoride political action committee Clean Water Portland had initially suggested—but do indicate the state's oral health program manager and public health director met with Upstream prior to the study's release.

And when hard results of the survey came back to the OHA, Oral Health Program Manager Shanie Mason asked her boss, Public Health Director Mel Kohn, whether she should contact Upstream officials about the results.

Later, Mason would write: "I'm also getting a ton of pressure from advocates like Upstream Public Health that have very specific ideas about how we should present our information. Unfortunately for them I'm committed to maintaining the integrity of our work and we'll be presenting our data in the way that we see most appropriate."

In response to the e-mails, Clean Water Portland has called on the Department of Justice to investigate. Goldberg said he's had no indication another agency is checking into the matter.

"I’m having our [human resources] staff look into that to make certain that we behaved as we should," Goldberg says. "They have not completed their work."

News of the internal investigation comes as Kohn, the state's public health director for the past five years, announced Tuesday he would be stepping down from the position in August. Both he and Goldberg say the fluoride controversy had nothing to do with the decision, and that Kohn made the choice to leave on his own.