After hours of of heated debate between medical experts, residents and council members, the Wellington council late Tuesday voted 3-2 to stop fluoridating its drinking water after 14 years of adding the chemical to fight tooth decay.
“What if science is wrong right now,” said Councilman John Greene, who voted along with Vice Mayor Howard Coates and Councilman Matt Willhite to stop fluoridation.
The council first approved adding fluoride in 1999, said Village Engineer Bill Riebe, and started fluoridating a year later. Since then, Riebe said, the village has not received any reports of problems from health agencies or village residents from fluoride.
“We’ve not had any issues with fluoridating drinking water,” Riebe said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls fluoridation of water to prevent cavities in children one of the greatest public health innovations of the past century.
Several local dentists, among them Doug Starkey and Frank Carberry, argued that science has clearly proven that it helps prevent tooth decay. Other supporters argued that the village should rely on medical experts, not people who surf the Internet and come up with conspiracy theories, to tell them whether the water is safe to drink.
“Use your heads, man,” said fluoride supporter Ian Blake.
More than a dozen students from Palm Beach State College’s dental hygiene program showed up in their purple scrubs to support continuing fluoridation.
But opponents called the support of fluoridation “propaganda” from the medical community and called fluoridation forced medical treatment without the consent of residents.
Resident Eric Cohen called fluoride poison and argued that it causes cancer, bone disease and discoloration of teeth. He said fluoride may help prevent cavities when used topically like toothpaste but doesn’t help when taken internally through drinking water.
“God never meant for us to take fluoride. That’s why it is buried in the ground away from us,” Cohen said. “Don’t listen to hired guns coming in from God knows where. They don’t live here. They don’t have to drink the water.”
Resident Charlene Arcadipane argued the fluoride the village uses contains arsenic. Riebe said arsenic in the water was also below detectable levels and the water meets state and federal standards
Wellington mother Tracey Powers said fluoridation was a scheme concocted in the 1940s by industrial companies to get rid of their industrial waste and she objected to a drug being put in the water supply. She called it a fraud and a poisoning of the citizens.
“For a government to forcibly put this in the water and make us drink it is ridiculous,” Powers said.
Phil Bilger, dental director for the Palm Beach County Health Department, called fluoride and “element” and not a “drug.” He said it was safe and no valid scientific studies prove fluoride causes any health problems.
“You can find all kinds of things on the Internet,” Bilger said.
Coates said he did not doubt the positive health benefits but he objected to people being forced to ingest a chemical.
“I don’t think we can dispense with personal responsibility in this country,” Coates said.
Willhite told fluoride supporters that some of the communities where they live don’t add fluoride and questioned whether doctors can really prove any benefit from adding fluoride.
Mayor Bob Margolis said the science is clear nationwide that fluoridated water reduces cavities and said “the facts are just not there” behind the claims of fluoride opponents. He pointed out that Pinellas County voted to stop fluoridating several years ago, then voted to put fluoride back in its water.
“You can decide based on your feelings but I will decide based on science and evidence,” Margolis said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said some of the information coming from opponent groups like the Fluoride Action Network was manipulated and “manufactured” which made it hard to trust.
“Right now all the information we have based on science says we’re not doing something bad. We’re doing something beneficial,” Gerwig said.
Riebe said the village would stop adding fluoride Wednesday morning.