It’s not often that 40 percent of Yarmouth voters show up at the polls and with that kind of turnout in last week’s town election, many of those who supported the fluoridation of the town’s water are asking, “what happened?”
“My husband is a dentist and we’ve tried four times to get this by the board of health and when the board voted in favor of it, we thought we had done it,” said Sheila Gagnon one of the leaders of the pro-fluoride campaign.
Question 6 on the ballot, asking voters to affirm the Yarmouth Board of Health’s decision to fluoridate the town’s water, was soundly defeated with 1,600 voting for it and 4,895 voting against.
Gagnon said she and her husband have done research and gathered materials and presented them to the board of health on several occasions, but the board of health had never publicly acknowledged the information.
Last year, however, they had Selectman Bill Marasco in their corner who also pushed for the board to vote on the issue of fluoridating the town’s water supply.
Gagnon said there are 12 to 15 members on the committee and they haven’t yet held a meeting to discuss why they weren’t successful at the polls.
The pro-fluoride group had the support of some big names in the dental world from the Massachusetts Dental Association, Healthcare for All out of Boston and many of the local dentist’s offices.
The group sent out a mailing of more than 5,000 flyers to people who had voted in the February primary and had signs and buttons printed supporting fluoride in the water.
“We went out to speak to different groups at the senior center, parents groups and had our brochure translated into Portuguese and got it out to the churches,” Gagnon said.
She said one problem with their awareness campaign was being forced to spend so much time countering myths about fluoridation.
“The media, as you know, does the pro and the con. But in a scientific situation like this, it’s not just opinion against opinion. It’s fact against partial fact or even hysteria,” she said, adding they only had about four months to launch an educational campaign regarding piles of scientific research.
In addition, Gagnon said the big issue ballot questions and tough economic times might have put voters in a negative mood.
“The two ballot questions for the schools didn’t pass and they didn’t even pass Question 7, which was a non-binding question. They didn’t even want to hear about new curbside trash collection options. It was just a very negative thing.”
Vi Pacitto, spokeswoman for the opponents to fluoride, said the proof is in the passion.
“This was a group of individuals that banded together and spread the word and believed in it with all their heart,” Pacitto said.
She said her group began with about 15 or 20 people and grew to more than 50.
Pacitto said they created homemade signs and had a few printed up, but their efforts were mainly comprised of public outreach activities.
“It was something that took over my life and the last few weeks have been extremely hectic. I swear I’ve gone around with a phone attached to my ear,” Pacitto said.
She said they were even surprised by the response of the voters, who defeated the question soundly.
“I honestly wanted it to be overwhelming to send a message, but I did not think it would be as overwhelming as it was and that was extremely gratifying,” Pacitto said.
Pacitto said she’s not done.
“There is something on the books now saying [the state] wants to fluoridate all of our water. We want to take that off the books and replace it with a mandate saying they cannot put fluoride in the water in Massachusetts,” Pacitto said.
“When you try to force something on a population, that is the wrong thing to do. Everyone has a choice,” she said.
Meanwhile, those in favor of fluoride in the water say they are not done with their fight either. While state law mandates fluoridation cannot be ordered again by the board of health for two years, the group plans to maintain the Web site, moresmilesaroundyarmouth.org and education efforts.
“Residents can go on that site any time and see what’s happening, and if and when it ever comes up again the general public will be more informed,” said Gagnon.