On a vote of 7-2 Tuesday night, the City Council approved allowing residents to say whether they want the city to continue adding fluoride to Gloucester’s water system.
Council President Paul McGeary and Councilor-at-Large Paul Lundberg cast the two dissenting votes against placing the non-binding, referendum on the ballot.
The question, as finalized by the council during deliberation, will read, “Shall the public water supply for domestic use in the city of Gloucester continue to be fluoridated?” Voters will check off “yes” or “no.”
The vote followed extensive discussion by the council on the wording of the question and whether or not it should be on the ballot at all.
Since it is non-binding, the question will simply advise the councilors to seek approval of a Home Rule petition by state lawmakers, but does not force them to do so. There was also some concern expressed as to making sure the public is informed when heading to the polls on Nov. 3.
Gloucester is one of two Cape Ann communities to put fluoridation to a public vote this year; Rockport will also have a question on its town election ballot on May 5.
Voting to discontinue fluoridation does not mean the municipal water will be totally fluoride free, according to Dr. Richard Sagall, head of the city’s Board of Health. Naturally occurring fluoride would still be in the water, but the city would no longer add more, as it does through the current community fluoridation program.
Most councilors supported allowing voters to choose whether they want to continue with fluoridation, even though some said they will vote “no” themselves.
Council Vice-President Bob Whynott said he supported allowing for a public vote, but said that he supports continuing the practice of fluoridation, and will vote that way in November.
Councilor Joe Ciolino also spoke in favor of putting the question to a vote, saying that there are some “big decisions” the public should be a part of — and in this case, the public “should be part of the decision making.”
On the opposite side, McGeary read a prepared statement, saying that the council didn’t have to vote to put the question on the ballot; that those who want to discontinue fluoridation could use a petition to force the matter to a vote, as written in the City Charter.
He also said the question affects every resident in the city.
“If we put the question on the ballot, we discount the unanimous recommendations of the American Dental Association, the U.S. Public Health Service, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, and the law of the commonwealth, which mandates certain levels of fluoride in drinking water as a matter of public health,” he said.
McGeary said he was also concerned for those without access to proper dental care.
“One group of voters, no matter how fervently they hold their beliefs, may not endanger the health of others — especially children who may not have easy access to good dental hygiene,” he said.
Lundberg, on the other hand, was concerned about putting the question on the ballot without an explanation.
“A simple thing like that (question), I’m against that,” he said. “How do you educate the public on Home Rule petitions and what it means?”
Just before the vote, he said he wasn’t opposed to having the question on the ballot.
“I’m opposed to putting it on the ballot without an explanation,” he said.
Councilor Melissa Cox offered to hold “some sort of information session (or) debate between the two sides.”
“I think it’s important that we try to share information, but it’s as important for the constituents to go,” she said.
Tracey Ritchie, Gloucester coordinator for the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network, was in the audience during the council meeting.
Ritchie has pointed out in the past that naturally occurring fluoride is different from the fluoride added into the city water.
“It’s a different element,” she said.
In the past, she said, the network has been attempting to educate the public on its stance. A concert slated for tonight at The Gloucester House aims to raise money for the group to purchase educational materials.
“A lot of people don’t know much about (the issue),” she has said.