BELLOWS FALLS — A grant awarded to the Bellows Falls Water Department to replace its water fluoridation equipment sparked recent debate among village trustees.
On Tuesday night, trustees tentatively voted 3-2 to accept a $14,170.85 grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) for its oral health fluoridation equipment.
The Village Water Department was only one of 17 recipients of the grant, which is funded through support [from] the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Brian Joslyn, chief operator of the Water Department, says the money would be used to replace several pieces of equipment used in water fluoridation, the most expensive being a $7,000 online water analyzer.
Trustees were initially cautious. Given the concern surrounding fluoridating public water, they questioned whether the grant agreement would require the village to repay the money should the community decide at some point to stop fluoridating its water — or not appropriate the money to fluoridation at all.
“I did get a copy of an agreement with another municipality that doesn’t have a kind of obligation of that sort,” Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe told the trustees, “So, I’m pretty confident that we would not be obligated to pay them back.”
Bellows Falls has fluoridated its public water for many years. O’Keefe recalled a debate about 12 years ago over stopping the pratice that ended with a decision to continue.
Some trustees say they’ve received complaints from citizens opposing water fluoridation since the announement of the grant award.
Trustee Stefan Golec said he was contacted by two residents who said they planned to start a petition in opposition if the grant was accepted.
A brief exchange occurred between Trustees Debra Wright and James McAuliffe over the topic. While Wright understands the external application of fluoride (e.g. toothpaste, for example), many studies point to serious health risks of ingesting fluoride, particular for people with high sensitivity.
McAuliffe expressed confidence in the scientific support and the work of the local water department.
“[Having seen] the good [fluoridating the water] has done, particularly in a village like this, with our demographics, to add rampant tooth decay to all the other issues that we’re facing would be a severe burden,” McAuliffe said.
Josyln told the audience his department has lowered the fluoridation levels from those in past years, from 1.0-1.7 parts per million (ppm) to .50-.70 (ppm).
“The current fluoridation level is actually less than what I found when I tested my personal well,” he said.
Golec, who voted to accept the grant, chaired the fluoride debate 12 years ago and expressed his understanding for both sides. He said the village should secure the money and welcome a debate should it occur.
“[The one 12 years back] was a heated discussion but the debate was good,” Golec said, following the vote to accept the grant, “Certainly, a debate doesn’t hurt but I’m glad that we’re going for the money.”
Supporting the grant acceptance were McAuliffe, Golec and Steve Adams. Mickle and Wright opposed.
The village has another scheduled regular meeting before its deadline to accept the grant. Should O’Keefe find any unwanted contractual obligations, the trustees would have time to reconsider.
While a petition would likely prompt a public discussion whether to end fluoridation in Bellows Falls, O’Keefe said that the decision to continue or cease the practice rests with the trustees, not a public vote.
*Original article online at https://www.eagletimes.com/articles/grant-spurs-fluoride-debate-in-bellows-falls/