Some Yarmouth residents are promising to continue their fight after the board of health voted to approve fluoridation of the town’s water.
A group of residents went to Town Hall to obtain the papers required for a petition of the board’s vote early Tuesday morning. “We went there bright and early,” said Vi Pacitto of South Yarmouth. “They were so inundated with calls they hadn’t had a chance to put them together,” she said. “Does that tell you something?”
Pacitto explained the petition can only be filed on official papers and the 90-day waiting period does not begin until those papers are issued. “We’re hoping this is not a stall tactic,” Pacitto added. Opponents will have to gather signatures from 10 percent of the population before it can be presented to selectmen for a possibly vote in the fall election.
The decision at Monday afternoon’s board of health meeting was jeered by a roomful of opponents.
With a 3-2 vote, Yarmouth becomes the first town on Cape Cod to move toward fluoridation.
Board of health chairman Dr. Benjamin Gordon, Ann Greenbaum and Robert Brown voted to approve the measure; Helen Shah and Patrick McDermott voted against it.
The meeting’s tone was set right from the initial motion. “I move that fluoride be added to the drinking water,” began Brown, but the end of his motion was drowned out by the moaning and booing of the crowd.
“That will not be tolerated at this meeting,” said Gordon. “Everybody has a chance to speak their opinion; nobody interrupted you when you talked, nobody booed you, nobody did anything like that,” he continued. “You will allow other people to speak with the courtesy that was afforded to each of you when you spoke.”
As each board member made their opinions known, fluoridation opponents in the room made their thoughts known, too – mumbling and talking back to their statements. One man stormed out of the room calling the board a bunch of “fascists” before the vote was taken.
Looking out on a crowd of people wearing yellow “Vote No” post-it notes on their shirts, Brown was the first to explain his support of fluoridation. “Because of the overwhelming scientific evidence of the benefits of adding fluoride to water – there are over 160 or 170 million people in the United States who have been drinking fluoridated water – some of them for 50, 60 years with no evidence of any harmful effects,” he said.
Then came board member McDermott, who believes the issue is a matter of choice. “Topical fluoride treatments are readily available in the form of pills, gels, rinses and sprays to those who wish them,” he said. “A free, weekly fluoride rinse program has been in effect in our elementary schools for many, many years.”
McDermott also found the cost a significant reason for rejecting fluoridation. “The nearly $1 million start-up price tag and $100,000 per year cost thereafter is excessive,” he said.
Shah sided with McDermott, saying fluoridation primarily benefits younger children (excluding infants), which represents only about 8 percent of the town’s population. “There seems to be some emerging evidence that by placing it in the water we might be doing some negative harm to people that are not children,” she said.
Greenbaum, who has more than 45 years in the public health field, said she had “absolutely no reason for not putting it in the water. My vote is to fluoridate for the sake of the population.”
Gordon was the last to speak, had the most to say and received the most flak. He began by addressing how opponents have been throwing around the word “poison.” “People who talk about poison and harm – you cannot talk about this unless you talk about dose,” he said. “If you take aspirin in a normal dose, it’s an excellent medication. If you overdose, then you get aspirin poisoning. That does not make aspirin a poison.”
Gordon also called a lot of the opponent’s claims junk science. “You do not start out with a conclusion and then look for items that will support your conclusion. That’s doing it backwards. That is what they mean by junk science,” he said.
While Gordon continued to make his points, members of the crowd chanted “shame on you, shame on you” while others verbally attacked Gordon, saying he doesn’t belong on the board.
One woman promised to “vote every one of you out of here” in the next election as she made her way to the door adding that she will “get rid of all of the selectmen that put you there.”
Yarmouth Police Chief Peter Carnes, who was there to keep order, said “Everybody needs to calm down. You can’t upset the whole Town Hall like this.”