The Bennington Select Board took no further action this week on whether they will put a question before voters in March about the possibility of fluoridating the town’s water supply, but the size of the audience at the meeting and the questions raised made it clear the topic is still controversial.
A citizens group, the Bennington Oral Health Coalition, has asked the Select Board to add an advisory question to the town meeting ballot in March about adding fluoride to the town’s drinking water. The coalition will have the option of adding the question to the ballot by petition as well.
A petition is already being circulated with the question, “Shall the town of Bennington improve the oral health of its citizens by adjusting the natural level of fluoride in the Bennington water system to a level recommended for preventing tooth decay?”
At their meeting Monday, the Select Board took no action to put the question on the ballot or reject the request. The could still take action at their next meeting Jan. 12.
Greg Van Houten, chairman of the Select Board, said he didn’t think there would be any action soon on adding fluoride to the water because the budgets for next year that will be put before voters in March had already been created and didn’t include fluoridation.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he had received early estimates that the cost could be $10,000 to $15,000 a year for fluoride.
Sue Andrews, executive director of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, told the Select Board she had obtained information from the Vermont Department of Health that there was start-up money available to create a system that would adjust the level of fluoride in the water.
Andrews spoke with other members of the Bennington Oral Health Coalition, whose members included local doctors and dentists, but the meeting room was full of people Monday and many of them opposed the effort to change the fluoride levels.
There is already some fluoride, which occurs naturally in water, but the proposal seeks to increase the level to 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter as recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service.
According to a state report, Bennington’s water is currently at 0.11 milligrams per liter.
Those who opposed the idea were not given a chance to speak during the coalition’s presentation but raised questions and made points under the citizen comments section of the meeting. One said fluoride was linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Alexander Tenentes, an optometrist who practices in Bennington, said fluoride was considered a poison or toxin at sufficient levels and cautioned the Select Board against “skimming over it” because many were in favor of fluoridating the water.
Marylou Albert, a Bennington resident who opposed the addition of fluoride, asked what she called rhetorical questions of the Select Board.
“How will citizens that do not want fluoride in their water be compensated for their freedom of choice being taken away and if fluoride is a mistake, how will the town pay for the lawsuits? Will the town forgive or adjust water bills to those people who don’t want or are allergic to fluoride,” she said.
Members of the coalition said there was no evidence that fluoride was dangerous at the levels they were recommending.
Other coalition members described the poor oral health, which includes missing teeth, that is seen among many Bennington residents, especially children.
“Life is better with teeth,” said coalition member Charlie Gingo.