Bradford, Vt. — The room grew silent as the moderator leaned into his microphone to announce fluoride’s fate.
Town Moderator Mark Johnson said 88 ballots were cast, with 50 water and sewer users voting in favor of re-establishing nearly three decades of water fluoridation, while 38 users voted against the reintroduction of fluoride.
“The public has spoken,” said Water and Sewer Commission Chairman Robert Nutting, who opposed fluoridation.
Bradford Dentist Dr. Robert Munson, who spearheaded the petition to force last night’s vote, said he is pleased with the results and feels the benefits of fluoride far out way any negative effects.
“I appreciate everyone coming out, I appreciate the debate and I appreciate what they have done for the children of this community,” Munson said after the results of the vote were announced.
Although only 12 votes separated whether to reintroduce fluoride or continue on without it, Selectboard Chairman Ted Unkles said he was just happy to have a verdict.
“I am pleased with the outcome, but even more than that I’m pleased that the public made the decision,” said Unkles.
More than 95 individuals were in attendance at last night’s special Water and Sewer District meeting and debate continued for more than an hour . Some in attendance could not vote because they are not water and sewer customers.
Bradford resident Julieann Barney shook her head as she left the Bradford Academy auditorium shortly after 9 p.m. last night. Barney, who opposes water fluoridation, said the water should remain free of fluoride so each individual can decide whether to ingest it or not.
“We could debate this for the next 20 years, (but) the solution is very simple,” Barney said, explaining that people who wish to ingest fluoride can take a fluoride supplement, which would leave those who don’t want it with a choice. “If you are voting to add fluoride, you are voting to take away my right to choose.”
Bradford resident Emily Marsh agreed.
“I want a choice,” Marsh said . “There are two sides to this argument. Clearly, there is not enough evidence either way, and no one knows anything for sure.
“You can get pills at the dentist,” she added. “Why can’t people who want fluoride just do that and leave it out of the water?”
Although the water and sewer users have spoken, opponents, under state law, could file a petition within 30 days to the Selectboard for reconsideration of the decision . The petition must include signatures from a minimum of 5 percent of customers along the water and sewer line. No one at last night’s meeting indicated they would start a petition.
Although the commission has the right to petition for reconsideration as well, Nutting said members decided at their Feb. 12 meeting to “live with whatever the ratepayers decide.”
With the ruling in, Nutting said last night the commission would reintroduce fluoride “as soon as we can.” Nutting believed the town still has some of the equipment needed, such as a large drum to hold the fluoride, and that he would work to obtain the rest of the equipment.
Ratepayers would be responsible for the cost of any additional equipment needed, plus the cost of fluoride, which Nutting estimates to be about $1,200-$1,500 for a year’s supply.
Water and Sewer Commission members voted last October to make permanent their decision to not put fluoride in the water, which the town stopped doing the last spring.
The commission cited costa savings as a reason for stopping fluoridation, as well as lacking the necessary equipment to pump fluoride back into the water after a pump broke down. Nutting said a new pump house was later built and included the necessary taps, but not the equipment to reintroduce fluoride.
Although water and sewer users were divided over their decision last night, a majority of those in attendance agreed with the way the commission reached their initial choice to remove fluoride wasn’t done transparently.
Many people spoke of the six-month gap between when fluoride was removed from the water supply and when residents were notified.
“The issue to me tonight is, I want to know how you can make this decision without telling anybody,” Bradford resident Donna McCann said. “We are here making a decision about fluoride tonight because five people decided to stop doing it and then didn’t tell anybody. That is the issue to me tonight.”