The city will be holding a public hearing next Tuesday on whether to fluoridate the rest of WoburnÕs water, a topic that has been controversial in many communities across the state.
The state Department of Public Health lists 135 communities in Massachusetts that have at least partial fluoridation. The result is that about 6 out of 10 residents in this state have fluoridated water.
Included in that number is Woburn. The city draws some of its water from the Quabbin Reservoir, which has been fluoridated by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority since 1978. The DPH estimated that 20,000 Woburn residents Ñ more than half Ñ already have fluoridated water pouring from their tap. The remaining residents, who take their water from the wells at Horn Pond, are the ones at stake with this upcoming decision by the Woburn Board of Health.
” Community water fluoridation has been in existence for greater than 50 years, ” said Mary Foley, director of the DPH Office of Oral Health. ” Over the years it has been effective in preventing tooth decay in all age groups..”
Not everyone agrees with Foley, however. Communities such as Worcester, Springfield and nearby Wilmington have repeatedly rejected ballot measures to fluoridate their water. Stephen Dean is president of Massachusetts Communities for Pure Water, and has helped citizens wage the fight against fluoride for what he says is freedom of choice.
” We believe fluoridation violates health freedom, the freedom to choose what chemicals go into our body, ” he said. ” I believe in the freedom of people to choose against fluoridation. ”
In Woburn, the issue isnÕt whether to go from zero to full steam on the fluoride meter. According to John Corey Jr., city engineer, most residents are already receiving fluoridated water. Members of the Board of Health estimated the number at about two-thirds of residents. And in the summer, when water demand is high and the city draws more from the MWRA, they say the ratio rises even more.
In the new water treatment facility, there is already a special room for fluoridation tanks. All the city has to do is install and hook them up to the water system.
” ItÕs not really an issue of fluoridating the water or not, ” said John Fralick Jr., Woburn health agent. ” It is already there. The issue is whether to fluoridate the rest of it. ”
During the public hearing on Tuesday, the Board of Health will listen to city and state officials testifying to the benefit of fluoridation. Members of the board can ask questions, and anyone from the public can comment or ask questions as well. Members of the board said that the purpose of the meeting is to figure out how residents feel on the matter.
After hearing, the Board of Health will make their decision in accordance with state law. If they choose to fluoridate the remaining water Ñ which seems likely Ñ fluoridation will begin 90 days later.
That is, unless, residents decide to force the issue to the ballot. If someone delivers a petition to the city clerk within that 90-day time frame, which contains signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters in the city (approximately 2,215 people), then the question is put to a ballot. That election must be held at least 60 days after the petition is submitted..This is the way that communities like Worcester have rejected fluoridation over and over again.
” If there is any risk, people should be able to accept that risk with consent, ” said Dean.
Foley agreed. ThatÕs why she said the law is written so that residents are able to force the measure to the ballot.
” If folks in the community want to vote on it, they have the opportunity to do that, ” she said. ” That is certainly something that is built into the democratic process. ”
If it does go to the ballot, and residents reject it, the Board of Health cannot order fluoridation for another three years. That time frame is meant to respect the decision of voters at the polls. However, if the measure passes, then Woburn water will be completely fluoridated.