Twenty residents of Manchester and surrounding towns have filed a lawsuit in Hillsborough County Superior Court to stop the fluoridation of city water.
The case hinges on whether the city can distribute fluoridated water to six outlying communities, none of which have voted to fluoridate their water.
The intent is “to get the spigots turned off, at least temporarily” said Dr. Patricia Hecht, a school psychologist who lives in Manchester. “I’m one of a number of folks who are doing whatever we can to accomplish this.”
As of yesterday, the city had not been served, but Mayor Robert Baines said he expects the city will be in a good position to defend the lawsuit since all the legal requirements were followed when fluoridation was introduced.
Jed Z. Callen, the Concord attorney who represents the plaintiffs, said it would be easy for the city to cease putting fluoride in the water and he will seek a court order to stop it.
“They just have to turn off a valve,” Callen said. “As soon as the city is served, I will ask for a preliminary injunction and ask that they do just that.”
Water Works director Tom Bowen said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and was reluctant to comment, but he agreed it would be easy to stop the process, which cost the city $85,000 to set up. “Essentially, I just stop the pump,” he said.
The plaintiffs claim the fluoride compound used by the Manchester Water Works contains contaminants, including “measurable quantities of arsenic and lead.” The lawsuit is based on legal and constitutional grounds rather than health concerns, however.
It alleges chemicals are going into the water destined for towns outside Manchester even though none of those towns voted to adopt fluoridation, thus violating the constitutional rights of those residents. State statute requires approval by a referendum vote before fluoride can be put in consumers’ water.
Manchester residents voted by a narrow margin in November 1999 to fluoridate the water as a means of preventing tooth decay. The program was put into effect just over three months ago.
The lawsuit challenges “the legality of imposing this choice on – and serving water with these added chemicals to – consumers in Bedford, Goffstown, Hooksett, Auburn, Londonderry and Derry, without their having first being given an opportunity to vote thereon…”
Ten of the 20 plaintiffs are from Manchester, including outspoken fluoridation critic Lloyd Basinow. The others who signed on to the lawsuit are from Londonderry, Hooksett, Auburn, Bedford and Goffstown.
June Balke, a housewife who resides at 10 Buckthorn St., Londonderry, said she is objecting to the adulteration of the water she drinks by the addition of hydrofluosilicic (HSL) acid without having had a chance to vote on the issue.
“What else are they going to stick in water?” Balke said. “It would be nice if we were able to vote on it.”
Hecht said she is appalled by the introduction of HSL into Manchester’s water and she has installed an $800 system to filter it out. “Why anybody would want to drink toxic waste from the production of aluminum, I have no clue,” she said.
The state medical director Dr. William J. Kassler recently told The New Hampshire Sunday News the amount of arsenic accompanying the fluoride is “at an infinitesimally small dilution.”
But opponents believe introduction of any amount of arsenic poses a hazard that is not outweighed by any benefits fluoride provides. And if consumers knew arsenic and lead were going into the water they might not be disposed to allow fluoridation.
One of the strong proponents of fluoridation, city health officer Fred Rusczek could not be reached yesterday.
Attorney Callen said not giving consumers outside of Manchester a chance to vote on fluoridation is “illegal and unconstitutional and unreasonable.”
He is also challenging the constitutionality of the state law that dictates the language for a fluoride referendum. It says: “Shall permission be granted to introduce fluorides into the public water system?”
The language, according to Callen, is deficient because it doesn’t specify what chemicals would go into water. “It doesn’t allow Manchester to say, do you want arsenic and lead in your water? If people knew this they might have voted differently.”
Callen is optimistic the suit will prevail. He said that unlike other fluoride lawsuits, it doesn’t involve battling experts on whether the substances in the water are toxic, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks. It’s a simple question of whether the law was followed, and whether the referendum language is constitutional, he said.