BETHEL — Voters will decide by referendum vote June 9 whether to continue to fluoridate the town’s drinking water.
Fluoride is promoted as a deterrent to tooth decay, particularly in children. Bethel has been adding it to the water since a town vote in 1970.
But last year Sarah Lane asked for a revote saying there are health risks. She has made her case to selectmen, and did so again at a recent public hearing.
Lane has said that fluoride use is geared toward children, and parents can get prescriptions or treatments if they wish, some as little or no cost, and that topical treatments are also available. She also said that today there is fluoride available in some drinks and other products.
The total amount of fluoride a person gets through water depends on individual usage, Lane said. For instance, she said, infants who get baby formula mixed with municipal water may have overall higher amounts of fluoride because of the volume they consume.
Lane, who does not live in Bethel, said parents who have children attending school there have no say in the water the youngsters are drinking.
She said at a recent public hearing on the issue that it should be the responsibility of parents to make sure their children take fluoride tablets, and if they don’t, ‘that’s the consequence of your poor parenting.’
Resident Bud Kulik sounded a similar theme, asked why it is the responsibility of the town to look after people’s health. By extension, he wondered if the town should get involved in protecting the health of residents’ eyes and ears.
But local dental professionals, including Dr. Maurice Convey of Norway and Bethel dental hygienist Joann Moulton, said at the hearing that fluoride in drinking water is the best way to deliver it to the most children. Convey said topical applications of fluoride only reverse tooth decay ‘a little, when it is just starting.’
Moulton noted that not everyone has access to regular dental care, and fluoride provides at least some protection.
Lane has cited studies she said show a negative health impact on children, particularly a ‘meta-analysis’ done by Harvard researchers which analyzed 27 independent studies. That analysis concluded that children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas.
She has also said that the containers of fluoride used by the BWD are marked ‘Poison, toxic by ingestion,’ and ‘Made in China,’ and that it is an ‘industrial waste byproduct of the fertilizer industry.’
After the hearing the Citizen was contacted by John Bastey, Director of Governmental Relations for the Maine Dental Association, who provided information from the American Dental Association on the issue from a publication entitled ‘Fluoridation Facts.’
Regarding the labeling of fluoride as an industrial byproduct, the ADA report said, ‘Byproducts are simply materials produced as a result of producing something else – they are by no means necessarily bad, harmful or waste products. In the chemical industry, a byproduct is anything other than the economically most important product produced.’
As for being toxic, the publication says, ‘Like many common substances essential to life and good health salt, iron, vitamins A and D, chlorine, oxygen and even water itself – fluoride can be toxic in excessive quantities. Fluoride in the much lower concentrations (.7 to 1.2 parts per million) used in water fluoridation is not harmful or toxic.’
Regarding the benefits of fluoride available in drinks, toothpaste and topically, the ADA publication said that studies comparing tooth decay rates in fluoridated versus nonfluoridated communities show the decay rates are still higher in non-fluoridated communities. The rates are lower by 20 to 40 percent in the fluoridated communities, according to the ADA report.
The ADA publication also cited studies showing no evidence that fluoridated water has ‘any detectable effect on children’s health or behavior.’
The Bethel Water District is not taking a position on the issue. Board Chair Brent Angevine has said opinion among Maine water districts on the value of fluoridation is ‘all over the place. There is so much science, both positive and negative, we didn’t want to be a polarizing party to this discussion.’
When BWD Supt. Lucien Roberge was asked his opinion at a meeting last year, he said that personally he does not want fluoride in the water because people already get it from other sources.
The annual cost to the BWD to add it is approximately $2,600.