A decision by Bradford Water and Sewer Commission officials to stop fluoridating the public water supply — after doing so for more than three decades — has prompted strong opposition from an Upper Valley dentist who wonders why the five-member water board did not seek medical advice before making that move.
Chairman Robert Nutting, who has been on the utility panel for 39 years, acknowledged this week that commissioners “did not talk to the dentists about it” before stopping fluoridation in April.
Residents and businesses on the Bradford water system only learned of the decision early this month when a small yellow slip, dated Nov. 2, arrived with their water bills.
“Effective immediately, the Water and Sewer Commission has voted to discontinue putting fluoride into the municipal water system,” it said.
Bradford dentist Bob Munson said this week the board should have discussed the matter with area dentists before discontinuing fluoridation, which helps prevent tooth decay.
“These five people are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy water system, and they don’t ask anyone about this? They should have let us know what they were doing,” he said.
Now a meeting has been scheduled. Munson and others will have an opportunity to talk with the commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 6 p.m. at the Bradford Academy building, according to Bridget Simmons, the commission’s office manager.
Nutting said the board stopped fluoridation largely as a practical matter in the spring when replacement of one of the system’s two pump houses necessitated a shutdown of the pump that added the fluoride .
The panel formally voted 4-0 on Oct. 9 to make the no-fluoride policy permanent. Commissioner Lunnie Lang was absent, according to Simmons.
“ They’re upset because we didn’t go to them in the first place,” Nutting said of the dentists.
The fluoridation of public water supplies has, at times, been a controversial issue in different parts of the country, and the practice has its critics who claim some studies show that fluoride may have harmful effects on health.
Nutting said Bradford water officials “had some information” that fluoride poses a health risk.
“People look at it both ways; fluoride is either bad or good,” he said.
But Munson, a second-generation Bradford dentist, questioned the source of that information. He said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is solidly in favor of fluoridation, which he said is widely recognized by public health officials as a beneficial practice which has the support of most dentists, nationwide.
“Fluoride is effective, even in utero. It makes a tooth so much harder; it’s a huge benefit,” he said.
A fluoridation “overview” on the CDC’s website states: “For 65 years, community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay. CDC has recognized water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
A similar endorsement is posted on the American Dental Association’s website: “The ADA has endorsed fluoridation of community water supplies as safe and effective for preventing tooth decay for more than 40 years.”
Simmons said yesterday the information provided to the commission came from Gregory Stone, an anti-fluoridation activist from out of the area who did not attend any commission meetings.
She said the primary reason the board discontinued fluoridation was financial. The new pump house was not designed to accommodate the adding of fluoride, and it would have cost money to change the structure.
“That’s the main reason; it wasn’t built to have fluoride there,” she said.
The Selectboard was not involved in the decision, according to that panel’s chairman, Ted Unkles. He said Wednesday the commissioners have the authority to rule independently on water issues.
Retired Bradford dentist Jim Barton, father of dentist Charlie Barton who now has a practice in town, initiated the drive for water fluoridation decades ago.
Bradford has just completed a large municipal project that extended water and sewer lines from the village south along Route 5 to the Lower Plain.
The system now includes two 500-gallon water storage tanks and accommodates some 600 “hookups” to users. Nutting estimated the system provides water to between 1,500 and 2,000 people, including at the 600-student Oxbow High School and 300-student Bradford Elementary School.
This story has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following clarification ran in the Sunday, Nov. 18 edition of the Valley News:
A Bradford Water and Sewer Commission meeting to discuss flouridation in Bradford’s water supply will take place Nov. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Bradford Academy building. A story in Friday’s Valley News was not clear on the date of that meeting.