BANGOR – Despite some emotional pleas to stop the nearly 40-year- old practice, city councilors agreed Monday night that the Bangor Water District should continue adding fluoride to the water supply.
In doing so, councilors noted that the benefits to residents far outweighed potential risks, a conclusion they reached after hearing from a parade of experts, including dentists and pediatricians.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, sent a written statement supporting the continued use of fluoride.
“I, for one, do not think a referendum at this time is the way to go,” Councilor Frank Farrington said. He said his own observations suggest that fluoride does prevent cavities.
Farrington, who is in his 70s, said he grew up before fluoridation began, but that his children all benefited from it.
“Among five daughters, there was one cavity,” he said.
Councilor Patricia Blanchette, who also represents Bangor in the state House of Representatives, said she was concerned enough to consult Mills “because nobody wants to poison a child.”
Blanchette said she learned “you couldn’t drink enough water in a day to consume enough [fluoride to reach unsafe levels].”
While Councilor Gerry Palmer saw “no reason for a council- sponsored referendum” he noted that those opposed to fluoridation have the option of pursuing a citizen-initiated referendum, though he noted that the process would “take a lot of work.”
The debate over fluoridation here began in November, when local pediatrician Leonardo Leonidas told city councilors that one of the largest water utilities in Maine should discontinue its fluoridation program, which began here in 1967.
Leonidas said fluoride is more accessible in the average American diet than ever before, putting people at risk for ingesting too much. While he promotes dispensing fluoride as a supplement to children who don’t get enough, Leonidas said it would be safe to prescribe it on a case-by-case basis, rather than dose entire populations through public water supplies.
His proposal – based on studies from India and China, a recent report from a respected American research institute and his own observations – drew fire from the state’s medical, dental and public health advocates, who said the benefits far outweigh any potential health risks.
Fluoride foes turned out to support Dr. Leonidas’ efforts to get the additive out of the local water supply. Several wore or carried small placards reading, “Think of [Maine] Babies.”
Resident Melissa Pando thought the practice was harmful and unnecessary.
“The only people who are benefiting are the chemical companies,” she said, adding tearfully, “I’m not going to gamble with my children’s health.”
Resident Jim LaBrecque also opposed fluoridation: “I don’t want bureaucracy making health care decisions for me. They’re overreaching and they’re doing it for political reasons.”
During the council’s joint session with the Bangor Water District board of trustees at City Hall, Richard Fournier, who chairs the district’s board, read the district’s position statement on fluoridation. The document is based, in part, on 60 years of fluoridation practice, which has been epidemiologically reviewed, and is broadly accepted and recommended, according to Fournier.
“Lacking sufficient evidence to challenge the current recommendation of all major public health organizations, the board recommends continued fluoridation by the Bangor Water District,” Fournier said.
Reading from the trustees’ position statement, he said “specific concerns about overexposure to fluoride by infants and youth could be addressed by an educational program for dentists and pediatricians to increase the awareness of the use of fluoride in water, toothpaste and other common sources, with particular attention to issues relating to infant formula and fluoridated water.”
About a dozen people testified on both sides of the issue during about two hours of discussion.
Once five of the city’s nine councilors, however, had said they would not support a citywide referendum on the issue, the discussion was cut off without an official vote so the council could move on to its regularly scheduled meeting.
Beginning in the 1950s, fluoride has been added to many public water supplies across the country to help protect against tooth decay, especially in children. Critics have alleged that fluoride consumption is linked to autism, cancer and other health conditions.
By Maine law, fluoridation can begin only with the support of local voters, and once it’s in place, only voters may decide to discontinue it. About half of Maine’s 150 public water utilities add fluoride, which is strictly controlled to reach the accepted therapeutic level of 1.2 parts per million.
The Bangor Water District also serves Clifton, Eddington, Hermon, Orrington, Veazie and Hampden.