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Bradford Voters to Settle Fight Over Fluoridation

A special Bradford Water and Sewer District meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Bradford Academy auditorium for water and sewer users to weigh in on the fluoride issue.

Bradford — The town will allow its water and sewer system users decide whether to reintroduce fluoride into the municipal water supply.

On Tuesday evening, affected residents in Bradford will cast votes either in favor of the re-establishment of nearly three decades of water fluoridation, or for sticking with a new precedent for Bradford set last year.

Water and Sewer commissioners voted 4-0, with the fifth member abstaining, on Oct. 9 to make permanent a decision not to put fluoride in the water, which they had stopped doing in the spring during construction upgrades. The decision, which went under the radar of many residents, caused an uproar in town and a petition calling for the special meeting and vote.

“I am glad that the public is going to be given an opportunity to make a decision on this,” said Selectboard Chairman Ted Unkles.

The Bradford residents who spearheaded the petition to let voters decide fluoride’s fate, Robert Munson, a local dentist, and Larry Coffin, Bradford Historical Society president, requested the special Water and Sewer District meeting be held on a separate day from Town Meeting.

“Along with requesting it separately, we specified to put it at night,” Munson said. “The problem with Town Meeting day is, like a lot of people, we are working. By having it at night no one is going to have an excuse not to make it.”

Bradford voters who attend Tuesday evening will debate the topic much like a Town Meeting article. After someone “calls the question,” a vote will be conducted, Unkles said, adding it’s unclear as of right now whether the vote will be cast through paper ballot or a voice vote.

“If it’s a controversial issue, much like this one, sometimes people prefer to fill out ballots anonymously, especially those who don’t want to offend their neighbor,” said Unkles, who personally supports water fluoridation. “It’s nothing fancy, you’d write down yes or no on a piece of paper and then we’d count them.”

Unkles said voters will have the chance to decide who is allowed to speak at the meeting, whether it is only district users or all community members. Only voters on the Bradford Water and Sewer checklist will be allowed to vote on the article.

If the vote is conducted through paper ballot, Unkles said the ballots would be counted and the verdict would be released that night.

Although the losing side, under state law, could petition for another vote, Water and Sewer Commission Chairman Robert Nutting said the commission decided at its Feb. 12 meeting not to petition for reconsideration if residents want fluoride restored to the water supply.

“As a commission we decided we will live with whatever the ratepayers decide,” Nutting said. The party that doesn’t like the outcome of the vote has 30 days to file a petition to the Selectboard with a minimum of 5 percent of signatures from residents situated along the water and sewer line. The Selectboard must set a special meeting within 60 days of receiving the petition to reconsider the article, according to state statute.

Along the way, supporters of water fluoridation said health benefits, such as fighting tooth decay, were the primary advantages, while opposers cited involuntary chemical ingestion as a major flaw.

Nutting said he still backs his original decision to remove fluoride from the water, saying it’s too difficult to determine “how much is too much” fluoride.

Previously, commissioners cited finances as a reason to stop fluoridating the water, as well as lacking the necessary equipment to pump fluoride back into the system after the pump hose shutdown. Nutting, a 39-year commissioner, said a new pump house was built, which included the necessary taps, but not the equipment needed to pump fluoride back in.

As a practicing dentist for more than 32 years, Munson said water fluoridation is clinically proven, as cited on the American Dental Association’s website, to improve an individual’s dental health.

“Every medical professional from pediatricians to dentists — everybody knows the benefits of fluoride with virtually no side effects,” Munson said. “Science may change, we may know something 10 years from now that we don’t know now, but from what we know today it is the most efficient, cost effective and safest way to provide something that lasts a lifetime.”

Munson and Unkles both said the water fluoridation issue wouldn’t have become such a hot topic if the commission had undertaken a more public process when deciding to omit fluoride from the water supply.

“The way the Water and Sewer Commission handled it wasn’t done very well,” Unkles said. “If they wanted to (remove the fluoride) they should have announced it ahead of time and taken input from the community. If it was done that way there would have been less controversy.”

As for how long Tuesday’s meeting will last, Unkles said “it could be resolved in 20 minutes or two hours.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be contacted at jcuddemi@gmail.com.