Emotions ran high at a public debate regarding water fluoridation in Jonesborough on Thursday, July 6.
About 20 citizens of Jonesborough and surrounding areas attended the hour-long meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. at the Jonesborough Senior Center, to debate the decision to no longer add fluoride to the Jonesborough water supply.
In February, the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 3-1 to discontinue fluoride additives in the water, but that decision has been met with opposition from members of the community, some of which are calling for another vote or a reversal of the decision.
Allen Burleson, a local dentist, has even started an online petition, along with other local medical professionals, aimed at keeping fluoridated water.
In response to such opposition, Ron Myers and other residents who support the BMA’s decision organized a public debate to encourage more discourse on the topic, urging residents on both sides of the issue to attend.
“I think it was very productive,” Myers, a retired industrial engineer, said. “I think we got both sides of the issue discussed very well.”
The debate, which became tense at times, focused on the pros and cons of fluoridated water in the community. Several fluoridation supporters discussed the health benefits, citing the importance of fluoride in helping to prevent cavities, which supporters said is especially important in poverty-stricken areas where dental care may not be feasible for residents.
Mary Anne Snyder-Sowers, a strong supporter of water fluoridation and the daughter of an area dentist, expressed disbelief at the BMA’s decision.
“The CDC considers the reduction of tooth decay from fluoridation to be one of the top public health achievements of the twentieth century,” Snyder-Sowers said. “I don’t understand why when something is working… why do we want to break it?”
Local dentist Lon Reed agreed, saying he believed it was “wrong-headed” to remove properly adjusted fluoride from the water.
“I think you’re going to hurt children,” Reed said, “and you’re going to hurt adults.”
Reed said he attended a meeting before the vote with the purpose of addressing the BMA and was disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to speak due to not arriving in time to sign up.
“I sat through the whole meeting and the mayor denied me the floor,” Reed said. “I’m very disappointed in that because they allowed people outside the community… to take the floor and spend an inordinate amount of time.”
Another attendee admitted to a change of heart after attending the same meeting about water fluoridation last year.
“I almost had an attitude that we should take fluoride out of the water, and I was totally impressed that every single medical person who stood up and spoke about keeping fluoride in the water was passionate… and was very concerned about the children in this area,” Ed Wolff, a retired pastor, said. “When I left I had a totally different attitude.”
Those opposing water fluoridation, and who approve of the board’s decision to remove fluoride, focused their arguments on the rights of the individual, pointing out that residents should get to choose what medications they ingest.
“To me when you start force-medicating the water supply, and you don’t have a choice whether you are medicated or not. To me that’s un-American,” Myers said. “That’s like a third-world dictatorship.”
Myers and others opposing fluoridation also voiced concern over ingesting or bathing in fluoridated water due to health reasons.
“I’m really concerned about the material they choose to fluoridate the water with… which has a bunch of contaminants in it that shouldn’t be in there, like arsenic,” Myers said, “which is a known human carcinogen.”
Myers has spent about 15 years researching the topic of water fluoridation. He became interested in the subject when his wife was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. Myers said his research suggests an underactive thyroid may be attributed to fluoridated water.
In addition, Myers said the argument for keeping fluoride in the water supply to help prevent cavities doesn’t address the real issue.
“Instead of focusing on the water…. why not address the real cause of the problem,” he said, “which is too much sugar consumption?”
Myers, who grew up in Jonesborough, is currently a resident of Johnson City, and he hopes to address the issue of water contaminants and fluoridation in Johnson City after the fluoride issue in Jonesborough is settled.