SPRINGFIELD – The debate about water fluoridation before the city’s Public Health Council this week was a case of dueling doctors and clashing citizens.
Each side was armed with its own interpretation of the science underlying whether the treatment of water with fluoride – a form of the element, fluorine, which occurs naturally in the environment – was good or bad.
The council, which has only advisory powers, voted 9-1 on Wednesday to recommend that officials begin fluoridating the water supply.
“I think it’s important that we look at this issue as an issue of public health,” said Dr. Thomas J. Manning, a dentist and the council chairman.
About 75 percent of the country’s public water is fluoridated because it is a proven way to boost oral health, he said.
The city does not add fluoride to its water supply, though it exists in the water in small, naturally occurring levels, said Katherine J. Pedersen of the Water and Sewer Commission.
“Our shame is in knowing that community water fluoridation is the single most important commitment a community can make to improve the oral health of its children, and failing to act,” said Frank Robinson, executive director of Partners for a Healthier Community Inc.
The group runs several public health programs for city youth.
Stephen A. Dean, a local chiropractor and president of the state Committee for Pure Water, has debated Manning about fluoridation over the years. He said that fluoride can contain trace amounts of lead and arsenic.
“You can see that there’s lots of legitimate scientific concerns regarding the effects of fluoride on the body,” Dean said.
Linda McLauren of Penrose Street said her concern was the precedent established by allowing the government to use the water system for a mass ingestion of a substance.
“Once the rights of one group are taken away, then the rights of another group can be taken away,” she said.
Dean and Manning sparred over the source of fluoride.
Dean said the danger is that fluoride used to treat water is a straw-colored residue from phosphate fertilizer companies.
Manning asked for evidence, and Dean cited anti-fluoride testimony that Dr. J. William Hirzy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given.
“I don’t think you really an- swered my question,” said Manning.
He said that fluoride for water treatment comes from carefully mined rock in North Carolina and South Carolina.
“That is the answer,” Manning said.