The Alleghany County Commission voted 4-1 Monday night to oppose the introduction of fluoride into Sparta’s water system.
Chairman Ken Richardson was the lone opponent to the motion made by Milly Richardson to direct the county’s two members of the Virginia-Carolina Water Authority to vote against fluoride’s use.
Milly Richardson said she hasn’t seen such a level of concern since the mid-1990’s during public hearings on the land use ordinance. “My constituents are telling me they don’t want it,” she said of the fluoride proposal. “I come down on their side.”
Eight men and women make up the Water Authority board – two from Alleghany County, two from Sparta, two from Grayson County, Va., and two from Independence, Va.
In the aftermath of the vote, Linda Checkanow blurted, “One down!”
County Manager Don Adams pointed out that both the Sparta and Independence town boards “have indicated a desire to move forward” with fluoridation. Members of both boards were reportedly present during the meeting.
Commissioner Doug Murphy put his stand simply: “It’s a freedom of choice.” He said, “There are other mechanisms to get fluoride … Those are choices you can make. Once it’s in the water, it’s not a matter of choice. Once it’s in the medication, a choice has been made.” (In a story in the Nov. 3 issue, an anti-fluoridation vote by Murphy was wrongly attributed to Commissioner Randy Miller.)
“I agree with you,” said Milly Richardson.
With the overwhelming opposition being expressed, presentations by dentist Kevin Buchholtz and Dr. Ricky Langley of the state Department of Health and Human Services seemed almost an afterthought.
Earlier in the meeting and at the Water Authority meeting in Independence Monday morning, a torrent of criticism of fluoridation was poured over both boards.
Louis Zeller, representing the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, posed a question that echoed some of Murphy’s concerns: “How do you keep this toxic substance out of the water supply of those who would be harmed?” He called that the central dilemma town and county officials face.
Lucas Pasley, a high school teacher and father of three, told the commissioners, “There’s a time for the government to impose itself on the people.” He used the requirement of seat belt use as an example.
But he added, where fluoride is concerned, “This is not the time for the government to impose itself over the will of the people.”
Pasley said he uses fluoride topically, in toothpaste, and thinks that wise, but he said if fluoridation is imposed then individuals such as he and his family will lose the chance to make their own decisions.
Jim Keepfer produced a petition signed by 669 men and women opposed to fluoridation.
“The decision should go beyond what’s lawful, it should be based on what is right,” he said.
Dennis Smith told the board, “For 60 years bad science has been used t support a bad policy.”
He added that Ken Richardson had used his office as chairman of the board of the Appalachian District Board of Health to promote the use of fluoride through submission of a letter by Danny Staley, district health director and a subordinate of the board of health.
Thus, said Smith, one had to wonder what other influence had Richardson exerted? Why did he conceal such a quiet endorsement of fluoridation?
He asked the commission to remove Richardson from further debate and to disallow any vote by him on the issue. No response was made either by Richardson or the board as a whole.
Jerry Brooks, coordinator of People for a Clean Environment, told the board, “You do not have our permission to fluoridate the water.”
The dangers of the practice are far worse than the good it might contribute to dental health, he said, and wondered whether the board had really considered the dangers involved, the side-effects, and even the board’s own liability.
He said asking dentists about the worth of fluoride was similar to asking a podiatrist about one’s upcoming heart surgery. “I believe they will be acting beyond the scope of their profession,” he said.
Brooks filed a request for all documents of any sort that have to do with the Water Authority’s and said he would expect a telephone call regarding the request within 10 days.
Checkanow said out of those asked to sign the petition against fluoridation, 5 percent said they didn’t know about it and 5 percent said they wanted fluoridation. Of the remaining 90 percent, she said, a third wanted to sign, and two-thirds said they hadn’t heard anything about the issue.
Checkanow said, “Four hundred forty-two signed on to that petition against fluoridation.”
She said the only use of fluoride that seems at all healthy is as Pasley had suggested: “Paint it on, spit it out.”
She agreed, “There is a problem with dental hygiene and dental care in this community.” But she added that adding fluoride to drinking water was not the answer.
She told the board that in time the county will have to levy taxes to pay for the fluoride, which will lead to a ridiculous situation. Schools might have had to close due to budget shortfalls, she said, “and this is what you’re going to spend money on?”
Not only would mothers of young children have to buy bottled water to keep from overdoing their infants with fluoride, but then they’d be charged tax dollars to have it added to the town’s water.
“You’ll display an unhealthy disrespect” for residents if they ignore what they were being told, she told the commissioners. “I will not be made to feel powerless in the community where I choose to live,” Checkanow said. “I urge you again to reconsider your position.”
“Appropriate use of fluoride,” said the state’s Buchholtz, “has played a major role in the decrease in the severity of tooth decay.”
He agreed that the acceptable level of fluoride as set by the EPA probably ought to be lowered, and he said a level of one part per million dramatically improved dental health. High concentrations of the chemical, he said, are not recommended. “It could be very dangerous, it could be lethal,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, there are literally scores of reputable studies that indicate the safety and worth of fluoridation. He cited a variety of sources of support, such as former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and the Centers for Disease Control, and said in North Carolina virtually every town with more than 10,000 people fluoridates its water with concentrations ranging from 0.9 to 1 ppm.
CDC, he said, has cited fluoridation as one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century.
True, he said, the American Medical Association’s president condemned fluoridation… in 1936. Today, he said, the AMA urges all states to consider comprehensive fluoridation programs.
“A little bit can do good things,” he said. “Too much is not better – it’s worse.
Langley said the benefits must be weighed against the risks. There is a risk in introducing chlorine into water, he said, but that minimal risk is outweighed by what chlorine does to prevent intestinal diseases. “One part per million seems to be a safe dose right now,” he said.
He said there is no clear association between fluoride and cancer, and bone fractures may actually be somewhat fewer when fluoride is introduced.
The CDC sees no relation between fluoride and a variety of problems and no apparent effects where Down syndrome or Alzheimer’s disease are concerned. Fluoride at 1 ppm, he said, ought to limit tooth decay “and shouldn’t cause any other adverse effects.”