PLAINVILLE – A vote by the North Attleboro Board of Health last week to stop fluoridating the public water supply has been met locally with both enthusiasm and reserve, with some cheering the neighboring town’s board on and others taking a “we’ll wait and see if it sticks” stance.
What it means to Plainville is that fluoridated water could stop flowing into the town – good news for opponents of fluoridation, bad news for those who favor it.
But the question remains whether the North Attleboro board’s 2-1 vote was legal; that town’s attorney, Robert Bliss, maintains that the health board did not have the authority to overturn the 2000 North Attleboro ballot vote that put fluoridation in place.
“I don’t think, legally, they could do what they did,” said Plainville Board of Selectmen Chairman Robert Fennessy this week; Fennessy works professionally as an attorney.
Plainville Board of Health member Mary Gibeault, who has been a vocal opponent of fluoridation, said she is “personally thrilled” with the vote.
“I really don’t know how it’s going to play out,” she said, but added, “I’m personally very excited. I give the North Attleboro Board of Health a lot of credit for standing up against who they’re standing up against. So, I applaud them. And we’ll see what happens.”
Fluoridation has been an important, and controversial, issue in Plainville because it sends water through a water treatment plant it shares with North Attleboro, where fluoride is added. The town also receives some water supply from the adjacent community.
Plainville voters formally rejected fluoridation of town water in 2002 when they overturned a Plainville health board decision to fluoridate. The town, however, has received some fluoridated water ever since North Attleboro started fluoridating by virtue of the fact that water supplies for the west side of town must travel through the joint treatment facility.
There is no means of separating the water bound for Plainville from the water bound for North Attleboro after it runs through the plant, therefore no means of keeping fluoride out of that portion of Plainville water that is treated there.
A proposal to address the problem by building a new plant in Plainville was put forth about two years ago, but the plan was rejected as too expensive. The proposal also raised questions about the investment the town has already put into the joint plant with North Attleboro and about whether the town could exit its intermunicipal agreement with the neighboring town.
Fennessy and fellow Selectman Robert Rose expressed frustration with the situation. Rose is skeptical, like Fennessy, about the legality of the North Attleboro board’s vote.
“I suspect we’ll still be in the same situation we’re in now when it all blows over,” Rose said.
Whatever the final outcome with the North Attleboro vote, Fennessy said he, for one, would just like to see the fluoridation issue put to rest one way or the other.
“I’d just like to see it put to rest,” said Fennessy. “Either they drop it (fluoridation), or we go with it.”
Plainville Board of Health member Tim Pac is among those who favors fluoridation.
“I am a proponent of fluoride. Always will be,” he said. “The only thought I really had (about the North Attleboro vote) is I’m a little saddened at the decision. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.”
Kathleen Fontaine, a member of the Plainville Citizens for Safe Drinking Water – a group that opposes fluoridation of public water supplies – hopes that the decision remains intact and puts an end to fluoridation in both towns.
Fontaine has been critical of the way the issue has panned out from the beginning, when it was voted upon in North Attleboro in 2000. Fontaine said North Attleboro officials knew full well that their town and Plainville shared a treatment plant and some water supplies, and she thinks they were irresponsible allowing the ballot vote to take place in their town without making it contingent on a positive vote in Plainville.
“It’s just common sense when you have two towns that share a water supply,” she said. “It is grossly unfair to expect the other town to say, ‘Oh well, you voted, I guess we have to live with it.'”
Lynne Cudmore, another member of the opposition group, thinks the North Attleboro board did the “right thing” with its vote last week, and she also hopes that it puts the issue to rest.
“It’s been going on for so long,” she said.
While officials in the neighboring town work out whether the vote was legal, fluoridation is also going to resurface in Plainville. The issue is on the agenda for discussion at the Plainville health board’s next meeting on April 6. The board meets at Town Hall starting at 7 p.m.