NEW BEDFORD — The City Council is asking the Committee on Ordinances to prevent the fluoridation of the city’s water until the issue can be brought before voters.
The action followed a veto by Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr. of a motion by Councilor-at-large Brian K. Gomes to put a non-binding question on Nov. 8 ballot about the issue.
In his explanation for the veto, Mayor Kalisz said that under state law non-binding questions must be placed on the ballot 30 days before the election.
Mayor Kalisz only received the motion on Oct. 12 — 26 days before the election.
Faced with that response, Councilor-at-large Denis Lawrence made a motion to have the Committee on Ordinances meet with city attorney Matthew J. Thomas to try to prevent the implementation of fluoridation.
“There’s nothing further we can do as far as ballot question,” Mr. Lawrence said.
The Board of Health approved fluoridation in February 2004, but there have been delays in implementing the measure.
The board voted for fluoridation after many of the city’s dentists and health-care professionals requested it, saying that fluoridation would help prevent tooth decay in the city’s children.
But opponents such as Mr. Gomes openly question whether that benefit is worth potential health risks for other residents, especially the elderly.
“I still say that we shouldn’t put fluoride in the water until people express themselves,” Mr. Gomes said.
Other councilors also expressed strong opinions on the issue.
“This is ludicrous,” said Councilor-at-large Naomi Carney. “This is something that’s going to touch every single resident in New Bedford and further.”
Mr. Gomes said that a question to Mayor Kalisz about whether surrounding towns were informed of the fluoridation wasn’t answered either.
New Bedford provides water to 3,600 customers in Acushnet and 189 customers in Freetown. The city also has formal agreements to provide water to Dartmouth and Freetown in case of emergencies, and has an informal agreement to provide water to Fairhaven.
The cost of revamping the city’s out-of-date fluoridation equipment was $85,000, a significant portion of which will be reimbursed by the state, according to City Solicitor Matthew J. Thomas.
Councilor-at-large John T. Saunders said the current equipment is “decaying.”
Voters rejected fluoridation in 1979 on a ballot question, ceasing the program less than two years after it had been launched.
Mr. Lawrence [said] that people reacted strongly to the issue in 1979. He said that reacting during public hearing was weak this time because the hearings weren’t advertised properly.