NORTH ATTLEBORO – The battleground on fluoridation has been squarely laid on the race for a single three-year seat on the board of health.
Incumbent Diane Battistello, a fluoride opponent is facing a challenge from John Donohue Jr., a fluoride proponent. In fact, the only thing the pair agree on when it comes to fluoridation is that it is unfortunate the issue is taking up so much of the town’s time.
The board of health has filed a lawsuit against the department of public works in an effort to halt fluoridation. Town counsel has ruled that since voters approved fluoridation in November 2000, only voters can decide to remove it.
However, state law does not contain a mechanism for voting out fluoridation once it has been approved and a majority of the board of health argues it has the final say on this important health issue.
Whether that lawsuit gets a hearing in Superior Court in May will depend on the outcome of the election. While Battistello was instrumental in launching the suit, a move the board of health approved 2-1, Donohue says he will vote to stop it if elected to the board on April 3.
“There is a very vocal minority out there that is opposed to fluoride,” Donohue said. “It was voted in by the people, and it wasn’t like it was a preliminary election with 5 percent turnout. It was a presidential election with heavy turnout and 59 percent voted to have fluoride added to the water.”
Battistello defended the lawsuit, saying the board had no other options to convince town officials that it has the right to make a decision on fluoride since it is a health concern.
“I investigated the board’s statutory authority, and I am convinced that we have the right to halt fluoridation. Other boards not respecting our authority is the reason for the current lawsuit. I’ve worked hard to ensure minimal cost to the taxpayer. At the end of February, the cost to the taxpayer is only 6.7 hours of town counsel’s time,” Battistello said.
According to information compiled by Town Administrator Judith Robbins, the town has been billed $1,005 by town counsel for his work on the fluoridation issue. The last bill was received in October 2006, so it is not clear what other bills are forthcoming. The board of health is getting work from its attorney for free.
No matter what the cost, Donohue said “town boards shouldn’t be filing litigation against other town boards.”
Both candidates said they have researched the issue of fluoridation extensively, and have come away with opposite opinions on the issue.
“I’m pretty sure that I’ve done more research on this issue than any member of any other board in this town. According to a growing body of scientific literature, we know overexposure to fluoride is harmful, and because there are multiple sources of fluoride exposure there is no way to measure daily intake,” Battistello said.
Donohue disagreed saying, “Attleboro has been fluoridated since 1973, and I don’t see any public health issues being brought up by Sturdy Hospital or pediatricians because of it,” Donohue said.
When it comes to fluoride both candidates agree on one thing only – it isn’t the sole reason for their candidacy for the office. Both acknowledged, however, that fluoridation has become a hot topic in their race.
“Fluoride is a small part of what I’ve attended to while serving on the board of health, but it gets the most publicity because it’s the most controversial issue,” Battistello said.
Donohue said ending the litigation is his top priority because it will allow the board of health to immediately focus on other more important matters.
“I really didn’t want to make the campaign about fluoride, and I think it’s unfortunate that has happened,” Donohue said.