The Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization are among those who say that not only is fluoridated drinking water safe but it helps prevent tooth decay.
But doubts have persisted along the lines that fluoride could be harmful and that government fluoridation of public drinking water is wrong because it removes an individual’s right to choose what to consume.
The City Council Public Safety Committee will take its own crack at discussing fluoride at an upcoming meeting.
“There has been much talk over the years on the benefits and or the harm of having fluoride in our public drinking water,” said Councilor at Large James M. Leahy, who requested the committee meeting.
“I want to bring the experts in to discuss the pros and cons and also discuss the amount of money it cost the taxpayers every year to do this,” he said.
Leahy filed an order at the March 3 meeting asking that Holyoke Water Works officials attend a committee meeting to discuss fluoride in the public drinking water supply. This comes after city resident Kirstin Beatty questioned whether the use of fluoride is healthy or toxic in the public speak out period of the Feb. 17 council meeting.
The city has been fluoridating water since 1970 under Board of Health order.
It costs $30,000 a year to fluoridate public drinking water, said David M. Conti, Holyoke Water Works manager.
“An attempt three years after its implementation to vote fluoride out by means of a citywide referendum was overturned after it was determined only the Board of Health had jurisdiction over the program,” Conti said.
Supporters say adding fluoride – a form of the element fluorine, which occurs naturally in the environment – to the water supply has succeeded for decades in improving dental health.
But opponents say that chemicals used in fluoridation can be harmful and that having the government treat the public water infringes on an individual’s right to decide what to ingest.
As with anything else, online research can find support for the view that fluoride is harmful, the issue perhaps turning on what an individual is willing to trust.
Beatty said in a phone interview Wednesday she became concerned about her daughter and herself after reading about fluoride online. She has since bought bottled water and is purchasing a water filter, she said.
“I think it’s a really, really bad idea to tell everybody that they should be medicated through the drinking water,” Beatty said.
As for the pro-fluoride findings of credible organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the World Health Organization, she said, people can prevent decay by brushing their teeth without drinking fluoridated water.
People often follow the status quo such as government decisions without raising their own questions, said Beatty, who said she is a former English teacher.
“I think you have to go back to, we’re putting something in the water on the assumption that it’s good. But the truth is you really don’t know,” she said.
In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 67 percent of the country’s population was receiving fluoridated drinking water.
Debate about fluoride has been part of popular culture for decades, sometimes humorously, as in the assertion by Gen. Jack D. Ripper that fluoride was a communist conspiracy in the 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
“Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?” says Ripper, played by Sterling Hayden.
That’s why, Ripper says, he drinks “only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol.”
Despite scientific findings, people often continue to hold to contrary beliefs, said a Feb. 12 Washington Post story by science reporter Joel Achenbach.
“We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change — faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts,” the Post story said.
Or consider the case of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). The Italian scientist built on the work of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) the Polish mathematician and astronomer, who had determined a model of the universe that had the sun, and not the Earth, at the center.
The Catholic Inquisition convicted Galileo of heresy and he lived the rest of his life under house arrest.
In 1835, unable to deny the science, the Catholic Church dropped its opposition to the Copernican theory over which Galileo was persecuted, and in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed regret about how the Church had treated Galileo.