At least one Spotsylvania County leader wants to keep the debate over fluoridated water alive, even though the Board of Supervisors voted to continue the long-standing practice earlier this month.
In a recent email to county officials, Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Benton said he’s still interested in surveying residents about fluoridated water and putting what he described as an “informational statement and/or warning” on water bills.
“I do not believe the vote … precludes either of these for discussion or for being done and I would like to do this in the very near future so we can put this to rest for good,” Benton wrote in an email Feb. 15, two days after the Board of Supervisors voted 4–3 to continue what is known as “community water fluoridation.” In an interview, however, Benton said he was in “no rush to do anything right now.”
The county has added a small amount of fluoride to its public water supply since 1981, a common practice that most dentists consider a safe way to help prevent cavities. A decision to cut off fluoride would also impact the city of Fredericksburg, which gets its water from the Motts Run Water Treatment Plant in Spotsylvania.
Benton—whose home receives well water—said he’s not sure how the survey would be conducted, though he said it could be mailed with water bills and ask residents if they oppose, support or do not care about fluoridated water. A “noticeable majority” of respondents would have to oppose the practice for the county to base its decision on the poll’s findings, he said, adding that supervisors would need to discuss that process.
“We can’t send out 1,500 bills and get 10 back saying they don’t want it and go with that,” Benton said.
Supervisors started debating the topic last year in response to resident Larry Plating’s three-year campaign against fluoridated water, which critics assert causes health problems and amounts to “forced medication.” Health care professionals got wind of the discussion and turned out at a January meeting to urge supervisors to continue the practice.
About 96 percent of Virginians and 74 percent of the U.S. population get their water from public systems that add fluoride.
Still, Supervisors David Ross and Paul Trampe joined Benton in voting against this month’s motion to keep the status quo. And last month, Ross asked county employees to look into putting a notice about fluoride on county water bills.
Deputy County Administrator Ed Petrovitch said at a Feb. 13 meeting that officials had drafted language for water bills that includes the fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter and advises residents to consult their doctor if they have questions. Supervisors have not voted on whether to include such a notice on water bills, though county officials said the cost of doing so would be negligible.
Nationally, some localities have let voters decide whether to continue water fluoridation through referendums.
Asked what he thought of a referendum, Benton replied: “I’m open to anything that’s going to be cheap but … effectively done.” He said that the majority of speakers who supported water fluoridation at a county meeting last month do not live in Spotsylvania.
Some of the speakers, including various dentists in the Fredericksburg region, noted that an overwhelming number of scientific studies show no adverse health effects from fluoridated water. Benton was unmoved.
“Everybody talks about all these doggone studies, but you can make a study say what you want it to,” he said in an interview. “I want to hear from our citizens. I don’t care about all these other folks putting in their 2 cents worth and not even being from Spotsylvania County.”