Emotions ran high in Edgartown this week over a recent board of health decision to move forward with a plan to add fluoride to town water.
At a meeting Tuesday, members of the water commission and some town residents continued to call for the board of health to rescind its vote, amid heated questions about the process.
Opponents are circulating a petition calling for water fluoridation to be placed on the ballot at the town election this spring.
Petitioners stood outside the Old Whaling Church before a special town meeting Tuesday to gather signatures.
The issue was discussed at a water commission meeting a few hours earlier, which was attended by two of the three board of health members, the town health agent, a handful of residents and selectman Art Smadbeck.
The board of health is scheduled to take up the issue again at a meeting next Tuesday.
The board voted in October to take steps to fluoridate the town water supply, following a process dictated by state law. Residents have 90 days after notice of the vote to gather a petition, signed by 10 per cent of voters, to bring the issue to a binding town vote.
Fluoride has been added to public water since the 1940s to prevent tooth decay. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 75 per cent of people in the United States receive fluoridated public water. On the Vineyard, Oak Bluffs is the only town that adds fluoride to water.
In Edgartown the board of health’s decision sparked debate at a meeting last week. Discussion centered on whether there was another option to bring the issue to a town vote and concerns that fluoridation would go through without town residents weighing in. Health agent Matt Poole and board members Harold Zadeh and Dr. Garrett Orazem have said they are doing their jobs in protecting public health, and that they followed state law and what they thought was the best process to bring the issue to a town vote.
Board of health representatives also said they support the petition initiative, saying that their vote to pursue fluoridation was the first step and they welcome a binding town vote.
Mr. Poole said Tuesday that the board is waiting for more information from town counsel and the Department of Public Health, though it is clear that the only way to bring the issue to a binding town vote is through the process that board has already taken. He said they would wait to discuss the issue at a meeting next Tuesday, including whether to change course and pursue a nonbinding referendum at the town election.
Some who attended the water commission meeting Tuesday heatedly called for the board to rescind the vote. Water superintendent Bill Chapman said he was disturbed by the process. “I think it was a big position to take without consideration of the impact it would have on this board, this department. Your decision was made one-sided,” he said.
“No board, government, local agency or otherwise should tell a community what medication they’re going to take,” he added, comparing it to the board determining whether white bread is allowed on store shelves in Edgartown. “The stuff you’re asking us to put it in this water system has a skull and crossbones on the back.”
Water commissioner John E. Kelleher said his concerns focused on the water department. “It doesn’t give us any time to figure out what this is going to do to our system,” he said. “That’s all I care about, is delivering our water. We don’t even know the cost.” He also wondered how fluoride would affect coastal ponds and shellfish.
Commissioner David Burke, who has been leading the petition effort, had strong words for the board of health members.
“I would to say that I believe your actions thus far have been deceptive, tricking us all, trying to slip it through,” he said. “Forcing us to go to a petition, lack of communication, lack of transparency, and you have been given multiple times the ability to rescind and you haven’t, you keep putting it off and putting it off.” “Shame on you guys, that’s all I have to say. Shame.”
Dr. Orazem, a longtime dentist on the Island, defended fluoridation. “We all need it and it helps us all,” he said. “That’s not my opinion, that’s the Centers for Disease Control opinion.”
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” said one woman who declined to give her name to a reporter.
“Oh, hardly,” Mr. Orazem said. “We’re doing our jobs.”
He said all board of health meetings are public and agendas are also posted publicly. Mr. Poole said the board of health anticipated all along that there would be a petition and vote.
In the end the board of health members said they would revisit the issue soon and made it clear they’d had enough.
“We’ve taken our licks for 30 minutes,” Mr. Poole said.
“We’ve declared a meeting on our schedule this coming on Tuesday. Everyone in this room is trying to bash us,” Mr. Zadeh said. “We’re trying to work with the town. If we made a mistake, we make a mistake. We are moving ahead.”
*Original article online at https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2017/11/16/fluoride-plan-continues-draw-heat-edgartown