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Editorial: Civic Health in Bradford; Fluoride Vote Lacked Transparency

There must be something in the water in Bradford, Vt., and we don’t mean fluoride. We refer to the fact that the town’s Water and Sewer Commission appears to be under the influence of something that has impaired its judgment and led it to ignore a central proposition of democratic government — that the public’s business must be transacted in a transparent fashion.

Those who have been following this controversy will recall that the commission voted in May to cease fluoridating the public water supply, ending a practice of nearly 30 years. It got around to notifying its customers in November.

Predictably, this upset some residents and led a number of Upper Valley dentists to wonder publicly whether the commissioners had taken leave of their senses, given that fluoridation is widely accepted as an effective public health measure to fight tooth decay. About 50 people attended a public hearing at the end of last month to debate the pros and cons of the decision, which the commission suggested had been based on financial considerations as well as questions it had about whether adding fluoride to the water supply might pose a health risk. Not exactly clear was why these questions came up after almost 30 years.

After listening to the public feedback that night, Chairman Robert Nutting said the board would mull over what it had heard and take up the matter again on Dec. 11. Good to its word, this is exactly what it did, voting to reaffirm the original decision. However, the commission had somehow neglected to list the vote on its agenda for action at that meeting, leaving some interested parties at home and in the dark.

We come today not to debate the merits of the decision to end fluoridation, but merely to wonder why the commission acted as though it were conducting a stealth campaign to end a long-established practice.

It’s hard to understand why the commission did not warn a public meeting back in May to discuss ending fluoridation before it took any action. More inexplicable was the failure to notify water users in a timely fashion. But truly unfathomable was quietly taking an unscheduled vote to reaffirm the original decision without giving the public full notice, when the commission knew full well that the question was highly controversial.

In court, that’s called contempt, but we’ll confine ourselves to observing that this does not exactly constitute best practices for conducting the public’s business. “It’s not the right way to do it,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos told Valley News correspondent Jordan Cuddemi, while noting that the commissioners broke no laws. Some residents were slightly more pointed in their reaction. “Their process was striking,” said John Price. “It was wretched and embarrassing.”

This is certainly harsh criticism. And in fact, we doubt that the commission set out last May to intentionally cut out its customers and the public from the decision-making process. More probably, one thing led to another and finally to a bad outcome. But the fact remains that public officials are required to face the music when they make decisions, even when the music is discordant. Explaining yourself is part of the implicit bargain officials make with the public in return for managing its affairs.

Related

Bradford, Vt., Commission Reaffirms Decision to End Water Fluoridation

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bradford — Water and Sewer Commission members have voted to reaffirm their May decision to remove fluoride from the town’s water supply. Commissioners initially voted in May to end fluoridation, a decision that flew under the radar for months before sparking a backlash from dentists and residents. On Tuesday, the commission took another vote, and the results were the same. …

Fluoride Debated in Bradford After Commission Ends Water Treatment 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bradford — Opponents and supporters of fluoridating the town’s water supply came out in force last night as commission members defended and explained their recent decision to no longer fluoridate the water. Supporters of the decision by the Bradford Water and Sewer Commission cited concerns over negative health effects and involuntary ingestion of a chemical added to the water supply. …

Editorial: Bradford Regresses

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While the rest of the world is fretting about electromagnetic waves, genetically modified food and other perceived health threats associated with contemporary living, the town of Bradford, Vt., has taken a step back in time by rekindling a public health debate that we thought had been settled long ago — whether fluoride should be added to the municipal water supply …

Letter: Different Twist to Fluoride Plot

Thursday, December 20, 2012

To the Editor: As the unannounced votes in the Bradford, Vt., Water and Sewer Commission remind us, putting fluoride in the public’s drinking water can be pretty controversial. In principle, such conspiratorial arrangements in government is outrageous. But when it comes to fluoridation, at least, it can work both ways. Back in the mid-1950s, the city council in Charlotte, N.C., …

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

To the Editor: In his commentary in the Dec. 11 Valley News, “Bradford: Keep the Ban on Fluoridation,” Paul Connett provides a needed corrective to the conventional wisdom that fluoridation of our water supplies is vital for public dental health. Moreover, mental acuity is shown to be at risk, the collateral damage of this process. If topical application of fluoride …

Letter: Fluoridation Has Sound Science Behind It

Thursday, December 20, 2012

To the Editor: Bravo to the Valley News for its wise and commonsensical editorial on Dec. 2, “Bradford Regresses.” As a pediatrician, I see children every week from Bradford who will be hurt by the removal of fluoride from the water. We have an oral health crisis here, and both kids and seniors are counting on us to heed science …

Letter: Fluoridation Makes Sense

Thursday, December 20, 2012

To the Editor: Your Dec. 2 editorial, “Bradford Regresses,” points to an extremely important principle on which this country was founded, and one I’d like to think our community practices on a regular basis. Fluoridation is a public health measure in which a tiny communitywide investment benefits everyone. Maintaining an optimal amount of fluoride in water is based on the …

Letter: No Medication Without Consent

Thursday, December 20, 2012

To the Editor: This is in response to the Dec. 2 editorial, “Bradford Regress.” First off, let me state that I am the “anti-fluoride activist from out of the area” mentioned in the first article. I, and five previous generations of my family have lived in Fairlee. My wife, three children and I have lived in Bradford now for about …

Column: Bradford: Keep the Ban on Fluoridation

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Canton, N.Y. When getting my Ph.D. at Dartmouth, I relied on the Valley News for well-informed opinion; thus, I was deeply shocked to read its Dec. 2 editorial on water fluoridation. Having researched this issue for 16 years, first as a professor of environmental chemistry and then as director of the Fluoride Action Network, I believe this editorial could have …

Column: Fluoride Is Safe, Effective and Needed

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The community water supply in Bradford, Vt., is no longer fluoridated due to a recent decision by the Water and Sewer Commission. The commissioners initially cited health and financial reasons as their reasons for discontinuation, but failed to consult any local dentists or public health providers before casting their votes, which affected approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people in town. After …

Petition Seeks Fluoride Vote In Bradford

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bradford, Vt. — Two residents are spearheading a petition to reverse the Water and Sewer Commission’s decision to stop fluoridating the town’s water supply. Dr. Robert Munson, a dentist, and Larry Coffin, Historical Society president and retired town moderator, said they started the petition this week following a backlash to the commission’s decision to remove the fluoride. More recently, Bradford …