MOUNT DESERT – Voters here may get the chance in a few months to decide whether the local water district should continue to add fluoride to the water that is piped to many of the homes and businesses in town.
If they do, Mount Desert will be the latest of several Maine communities which have considered in recent months whether they should implement or discontinue the practice.
According to Paul Slack, manager for the Mount Desert Water District, the district’s board of trustees has requested that the question be put to local voters at the annual town meeting in March. Though the water district is not run or funded by the town and does not serve all Mount Desert residents, state law requires that any local water district’s fluoride usage policy be determined by voters at the municipal ballot box.
Slack said Wednesday that evidence shows that fluoride, which is used to help prevent tooth decay, is most effective in improving health when applied topically to the teeth rather than swallowed. There also is evidence that when ingested in large amounts, it can be bad for teeth and can lead to other health problems, especially for infants, he said.
For that reason, the district’s board of trustees has decided to go about having fluoride removed from the district’s water supply, according to Slack. The board on Monday asked local selectmen to have the issue placed on the ballot for the next annual town meeting in March, he said.
“Certainly there is a cost, but cost is not what is driving this,” Slack said. “We’re stewards for the health and welfare of our customers. It’s much more of a health issue than anything else.”
Many public health officials and advocacy organizations say it is safe and beneficial to put small amounts of fluoride in drinking water, but critics claim there are other, more effective ways for making sure people who need fluoride get it and those who don’t need it go without.
Slack acknowledged that because fluoridation has been fairly common since the 1960s, when many districts such as the one in Mount Desert started adding fluoride to their drinking water supplies, it will take an education campaign to convince local voters that they should seriously consider dropping the additive from the utility’s service. He said the district hopes to host public hearings on the issue, complete with speakers representing each side of the debate, some time next February.
“Our goal is to educate the people,” Slack said. “An informed public is a good public.”
The question over whether the public water supply is the best way to provide fluoride to the local residents has come up this year in other Maine municipalities, some of which have never added fluoride to their treated water.
Voters in Jackman and Moose River decided last month to keep the local district’s fluoridation program. In Lincoln and Howland, voters rejected a proposal to start adding fluoride to their public water supply.
Three Maine communities have approved adding fluoride to their local water supplies within the past decade. Portland and Augusta each decided to do so in 1997, while York voters approved their local fluoridation program in 2004.