The Newburyport City Council is poised to possibly punt on a very important decision regarding the public’s health.
Let’s hope that instead of throwing a complex decision to public opinion, councilors will take a decisive stand based on the preponderance of credible evidence.
At issue is fluoridating Newburyport’s water supply. There’s a concerted and passionate effort underway by several people to remove fluoride from the city’s water, as Amesbury did a few years ago. Proponents provide a variety of arguments on why it should be removed. They want it placed on the November city election ballot.
Either this week or within the next few weeks, the council will vote on whether to put the measure on the ballot. If the council chooses to place it on the ballot, it should also take a leadership position of the issue. It should recommend to Newburyport residents, based on its own research and the testimony it hears, how removing fluoride will impact citizens’ health.
There is indisputable evidence of fluoride’s beneficial role in dental health. That is the reason it has been put into public water supplies for decades.
But opponents argue that fluoride has become more prevalent in food, drink and health products in recent years. That has raised questions of whether people are being over-fluoridated. Some studies have shown that excessive levels of fluoride harms brain development, and may have detrimental impacts on bone development, as well as other harmful health effects. These studies have generated fear and doubt in many people regarding the use of fluoride in public drinking supplies.
But the overwhelming majority of public health studies supports the use of fluoride in public drinking water, when applied within specific parameters. These studies are generated by some of the nation’s most credible authorities on health — among them the Centers for Disease Control, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health.
The anecdotal evidence observed by local dentists is also instructive. Those who have spoken out on the issue have been unanimous in their observation that fluoride has a clear benefit to dental health, particularly among children. To deny children of something that will improve their lifelong health due to the whim of public opinion would be a mistake.
This is a complicated matter for the general public to sort out. It’s easy for fear to rule on this issue. That’s what happened in Amesbury almost six years ago. An enormous “cake” of fluoride — it looked like a leviathan aspirin tablet — left behind an oozing residue that the water department couldn’t identify. The “cake” came from China, which raised fears that it may contain toxins. U.S. officials had recently discovered that toothpaste and baby formula imported from China contained high levels of toxins.