The decision about whether to add fluoride to Edgartown’s public water supply will now go before voters next April, following a successful petition effort by residents.
The Edgartown town clerk’s office confirmed Wednesday that a petition had been certified with enough signatures to place the fluoridation question before voters at the annual town meeting next spring. The question will require a vote on the town meeting floor and by ballot at the annual town election, assistant town clerk Karen Medeiros said.
Meanwhile, at a meeting Tuesday, the Edgartown board of health stood by its vote last month to take steps to add fluoride to the water supply. The vote has sparked heated debate at meetings before the board of health and water commission in recent weeks.
Board of health members Harold Zadeh and Dr. Garrett Orazem reaffirmed their Oct. 10 vote to fluoridate the town water supply. The third board member, Kathie Case, abstained from the original vote and was not at the meeting.
The board’s decision was published Oct. 20. Under state law, town voters then had 90 days to gather a petition to bring the matter before town meeting.
And while the successful petition ensures a binding vote in the spring, members of the town water commission and other residents at the meeting Tuesday again called on the board of health to rescind its vote. Critics have cited both concerns about the health effects of fluoridation and what they claim was a flawed process.
Board of health members have said the decision was in the interest of public health because fluoride is well established to reduce tooth decay, and that they welcomed a town vote. About 15 people attended the meeting, including two Island dentists who said they back the board’s position.
Town health agent Matt Poole said Tuesday that town counsel had advised the board against rescinding the vote.
Mr. Zadeh began the meeting by apologizing for not involving the water commission earlier in the process. Water commissioner David Burke, who led the petition initiative, said discussion about fluoride should have taken place earlier. “We’re looking for opportunities to be educated. Education should have taken place before the order . . . They should start by educating us,” he said.
“What else is good for us that could be put in the water,” Edgartown resident Maria Thibodeau said, pointing out that vegetables are healthy, but eating them is a choice.
Debra Gaines said she found a study that linked fluoride to cognitive difficulties, and questioned whether it contributed to the rising rates of obesity in the United States.
But Dr. Bruce Golden, a pediatric dentist in Vineyard Haven, said a long list of organizations, including the American Medical Association, have found that fluoride is safe. Every doctor and dentist on the Island signed a letter of support for fluoride when Oak Bluffs was debating the issue several years ago, he said.
“I have to think about all the families that need help,” he said, adding that he’s seen young children who have to put under anesthesia at the hospital to have dental work done.
One person noted that Oak Bluffs is the only Island town that adds fluoride to its public water supply. “Then we have an awful lot of work to do,” Dr. Golden said.
Dr. Karen Gear, a Vineyard Haven endodontist, added her support. “I concur with Dr. Goldin and Dr. Orazem that there are numerous studies that have proven fluoride is safe,” she said. “It can be done and it can be done safely.”
Tensions persisted. Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Zadeh asked if Mr. Burke thought the board of health acted with forethought and malice. Mr. Burke said he did.
“If that’s what you believe I will step down and you can take my place,” Mr. Zadeh said. He said the board had made the decision because they thought it was a benefit for the town. “So let’s move ahead,” he said, adding that now that the issue would be up to town voters to decide, information sessions can begin.
“Please, if there can be transparency,” Mr. Burke said.
*Original article online at https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2017/11/22/fluoride-question-goes-edgartown-voters