“I would respectfully request that you temporarily remove fluoride from the water,” resident Kirstin Beatty said.
“I’m not prepared to do that tonight,” said board Chairwoman Patricia A. Mertes, a registered nurse, in the meeting at City Hall Annex.
Board member Dr. Robert S. Mausel, a physician, said the city was unable to halt fluoridation instantly after the treatment has been applied since 1970 and credible institutions like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention praise its effects in limiting tooth decay.
“Well they’re wrong,” Beatty said.
“There’s an awful lot of people who feel that way, there’s an awful lot who don’t,” Mausel said.
“There’s a lot who don’t,” Beatty said.
The fluoride discussion was brief and included only Mertes, Mausel, Beatty and Brian Fitzgerald, Board of Health director. Dalila Hyry-Dermith, the board’s third member, was absent.
Treating water with fluoride has been a practice nationwide for decades and a controversy just as long.
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.
The city has been fluoridating water since 1970 under Board of Health order. Fluoridation costs $30,000 a year at Holyoke Water Works, officials have said.
Beatty said she grew concerned about the possibly harmful effects of fluoride-treated water several months ago after reading studies online.
She discussed the concerns in the public speak-out period preceding the Feb. 17 City Council meeting. That prompted Councilor at Large James M. Leahy to file an order for a council Public Safety Committee meeting with representatives of Holyoke Water Works and the Health Department, which was held April 1.
Mausel asked Beatty if she had considered a step that was discussed at the Public Safety Committee meeting. An option discussed was to gather registered voters’ signatures on a petition to put a referendum question on fluoride before voters, though that option doesn’t appear applicable at this point.
“I’m very busy. I’m a single mom. I really expected the both of you do get rid of fluoride,” Beatty said. “I really strongly feel fluoride’s toxic.”
At the Public Safety Committee meeting, city staff attorney William Newcomb said three ways exist for the city to stop fluoridation of public water:
–The city Board of Health can be asked to lift the 1970 requirement that water be treated with fluoride to promote dental health;
— the city can seek special legislation to stop fluoridation;
–10 percent of registered voters can petition for a binding ballot question to be held, but that option is available only upon an order to increase the amount of fluoride in the water supply and the petition must be filed within 90 days of the publication of such an order.
No plans exist to increase public water fluoridation here, and Mausel said he would oppose such an increase.
Mertes said fluoride was on the Board of Health agenda only at the request of Beatty and so the board could discuss the treatment.
“I don’t feel prepared at all tonight to talk about percentage parts (of fluoride in water) or to take a vote,” Mertes said.
Beatty, Mausel and Mertes agreed an extensive amount of information can be found online
about how fluoride is healthy or harmful.
“There’s so much research out there that says it’s bad for you,” Beatty said.
Experts such as government agencies can state fluoride’s benefits, she said, but if even one study finds it is harmful, then that’s enough.
“I completely disagree with you,” Mausel said. “You have to look at the whole thing.”
Beatty said she has been reading information about fluoride for months and the studies that have found it harmful concern her. She reiterated her desire for a Board of Health vote halting fluoridation.
“I’m here and I’m going to say it, I think that you’re all liable if you don’t. I personally don’t want to sue my town,” Beatty said.
Mertes said Beatty’s mention of liability was another reason for the board to study the matter and bring her remarks to the city Law Department.
“I’m very committed to looking into this more,” Mertes said.