The issue of whether Burlington’s drinking-water supply should be fluoridated has risen again, almost five years after city residents voted overwhelmingly to continue the practice.
A subcommittee of the Public Works Commission this week unanimously recommended that the fluoridation of the city water supply be “deferred” until further scientific studies consider health aspects raised in a 2006 report about fluoridation by the National Research Council, called “Fluoride in Drinking Water.”
Subcommittee members — commissioners Margaret Gundersen and Jared Wood and Assistant Director of Water/Wastewater Treatment Laurie Adams — also said alternatives exist to fluoridation of the water supply, and that approach “takes away the choice by the public as to how they receive fluoride.”
The subcommittee presented its report to the full Public Works Commission, which accepted the report but did not endorse its conclusions.
Only the City Council would have the authority to change Burlington’s policy on fluoridation.
This week’s action follows a lengthy public debate that concluded with a March 2006 vote in favor of fluoridation, 6,909 to 2,766.
Those opposing the fluoridation of drinking water make two main points: The addition of fluoride to drinking water is not proven to be safe, and the practice amounts to medicating everyone regardless of whether they desire it.
Those who favor fluoridation, which began in Burlington in 1952 and which is commonplace across the country, say water fluoridation has been proven to reduce tooth decay and is particularly important to the dental health of those who don’t receive regular dental care.
The Public Works Commission sent the subcommittee’s report and a recent report from Patrick Rowe, the oral health director at the Vermont Department of Health, to the City Council.
Rowe said he was asked to evaluate the 2006 NRC report and other recent scientific studies for the Public Works fluoridation subcommittee. He concluded, as the Department of Health did prior to the 2006 vote, that fluoridation is a “proven public health measure” that reduces cavities at small expense to the community. Fluoridation is supported by the U.S. surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Vermont Department of Health.
“When the council gets the report,” said City Council President Bill Keogh, “it’s logical that it go to the Public Safety Committee so they can take a look at it and any other recent information.”