Fluoride Debated in Bradford After Commission Ends Water Treatment
Dr. Robert Munson talks to a patient at his dental clinic in Bradford, Vt., yesterday. Munson has not liked the way the water commission handled using fluoride in the town water.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
Jon Thornton, water systems operator for the Bradford Water and Sewer Commission, changes a flow rate chart in a pump house. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
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. Opponents of the commission’s decision to stop fluoridating the town’s water supply after three decades argued that fluoridation has long been demonstrated to provide health benefits, such as fighting tooth decay.
“The whole commission is forcing people to take a medication without their consent,” said Peggy Coutermarsh, who strongly supports the board’s decision to discontinue water fluoridation. “I don’t think the water board has the legal right to be writing prescriptions.”
More than 50 attendees filed into the Bradford Academy building last night to weigh in on the board’s early May decision and consider the pros and cons of fluoride in the town’s water supply.
After hearing the opinions of more than 20 attendees, Commission Chairman Robert Nutting said the board would mull over the input and slate the fluoride discussion for the commission’s Dec. 11 meeting. Nutting, however, said he was unable to determine whether or not the board’s previous decision would stand, if the board would cast another vote or if residents would have a chance to weigh in through a Town Meeting vote in March.
Those opposed to the elimination of fluoride in drinking water — including three Vermont state workers, three dentists and one medical doctor — said fluoride in drinking water promotes dental health.
Bradford Dentist Dr. Robert Munson said it is vital for children to take fluoride every day and by having it in the water allows even low-income families to get the recommended dosage.
“We need it every day,” Munson said, who also spoke in regard to fluorosis — the act of receiving too much fluoride causing the teeth’s enamel to change. Some of those who supported the removal of fluoride in the town’s water cited fluorosis as a reason they opposed fluoridation; however, Munson said “I have not seen a case of fluorosis in my practice in Bradford.”
Bradford Dentist Charlie Barton agreed with Munson in that he hasn’t seen a case of fluorosis in Bradford either.
Commissioner Nutting said the board decided to stop fluoridation after a hose that adds fluoride shutdown and a new pump house was built. Although the pump house has the necessary hookups to supply fluoride, Nutting said, it nonetheless doesn’t currently have the full equipment needed to pump the fluoride into the water system.
Vermont State Public Health Dental Hygienist and Fluoridation Technician Coordinator Linda Greaves said if the town of Bradford votes in favor of water fluoridation, the state would provide the town with the necessary equipment.
Nutting said one of two reasons as to why the board voted in favor of discontinuing fluoridation was financial.
“There’s no equipment cost, but continuing to buy the fluoride costs money,” he explained, which was estimated by the commission’s office manager to cost $1,200 annually.
Nutting said the second reason for voting against fluoridation was because he, himself, was unaware of “how much (fluoride) is too much.”
“And no one can really answer that question with a hard and firm answer,” he said.
The Center for Disease Control promotes fluoridation in public water supplies.
“For 65 years, community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay,” the CDC states on its website. “A person’s income level or ability to receive routine dental care is not a barrier to receiving its health benefits.”
The Environmental Protection Agency, which holds a standard for regulating the amount of fluoride in a town’s water supply, reevaluated the current science of fluoride and according to a January 2011 EPA risk assessment study, the agency “will rely on these new assessments to review the existing maximum level of fluoride allowed in the drinking water.”
But at the same time, the EPA said it “has not yet made a decision about revising the drinking water standard for fluoride,” which currently sits at .7 milligrams per liter, according to the study.
The decision to fluoridate water is made either at the State or local level and is not mandated by a Federal agency, the EPA reported — which made the Bradford commission’s decision legal.
Legalities aside, many people present last night thought the commission acted poorly. Resident’s said they didn’t have a chance to voice their opinion prior to the vote as to whether or not the fluoride should’ve been removed — and after the vote was cast, resident’s said the commission didn’t notify the public of the change in a timely fashion.
“It’s inexcusable to not tell the public until November. The people should know,” said Selectboard member Ted Unkles, who spoke of the six-month gap from when fluoridation was stopped and when residents were notified.
Vermont State Toxicologist Sarah Vose tired to break through speculation last night, saying fluoridation in drinking water is at regulated levels that are intended to not be harmful to an individual’s body.
“You have to have extreme caution when interpreting the studies,” Vose said. “There are some conflicting papers, but studies done at drinking water concentrations do not cause adverse health effects.”
Stuart Cooper, the national campaign manager for the Fluoride Action Network, disagreed with Vose and added fluoride is the “only substance on earth” that is given to the general public without “a controlled dose.” Cooper said fluoridated water has negative impacts on infants and young children and should be left up to the individual as to whether or not they want to ingest it.
“When you put it in the water you cannot control dose. It’s impossible,” he said. “You cannot control who it goes to. It goes to infants, it goes to elderly, it goes to people with kidney impairment, it goes to people with iodine deficiencies. There is no control of dosage. What other drug on earth will a pharmacist give to any patient in any amount they choose? None. Zero. It doesn’t exist.”
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.