THE MAINE PAPER
October 19, 1981
Massive Fluoride Poisoning at Jonesboro Maine School
By Robert Berta
“We were told that the fluoridation program was completely safe,” said Velma Pineo of Jonesboro, after 60 students and teachers and the principal himself were taken to the Downeast Community Hospital in Machias October 6 following an overdose of the chemical in the school’s water supply.
“We asked what would happen if too much fluoride got into the system,” Pineo recalled of questions asked at a PTA meeting held last spring to see if parents would go along with a fluoridation program at the Jonesboro Elementary School.
“We were told it couldn’t happen,” she said, “and if it did, it would be completely harmless to our children.”
“Jonesboro, a town of about 400 people, is located eight miles south of Machias on Route one.
Based on the spring meeting, residents went ahead with a program this fall in which fluoride was mixed into the school’s drinking water.
The morning the mass poisoning occurred, the victims got abdominal pains, became nauseated and vomited. They were given blood tests at the hospital, asked to drink milk there, and were later released with no further ill effects.
Tentatively, a faulty valve on the state-installed mechanical unit that injected fluoride into the school’s water has been found to have caused the poisoning.
The residents of Jonesboro do not appear to be anxious to see the system hooked back up again. Some claim it will never be used again.
Pineo, whose husband Marvin is president of the Jonesboro PTA, had three children in the school, two of whom drank the water. One reported feeling poorly from the poisoning.
She stressed there was “no way” she would vote to return the fluoridation program to the school.
“I felt bad because I was one of the ones who originally voted for it,” Pineo said. “But I voted for it as a benefit to the younger children, not so much my own who are in the upper grades.”
Pineo now views the program with distrust. She doesn’t think the system should be allowed to be used in the school’s water again.
“I don’t want to go through it again, and I don’t think anyone else’s children should have to, either,” she declared.
Pineo stated that when two state government officials and one local official spoke to the parents in the community last spring, “we were misled. We should have been told there was a possibility of fluoride poisoning.”
Another mother, Irene Faulkingham, had one of her two children affected by the fluoride overdose.
Her son, Albert, celebrating his 13th birthday, ate a candy bar on his way to school. He drank water from the school’s drinking supply and was the first student to react to the poisoning.
School officials sent him home, originally believing he had a case of stomach flu. Later when others became sick and the suspected cause was pinpointed, Albert was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Mrs. Faulkingham said that while she had not been at the spring meeting when officials were asked questions about the fluoridation program, she had understood from other parents who did attend the meeting that the program was completely safe.
Parents were told there was “no danger” that too large a dose of fluoride would ever get into the school’s water supply, she said, feeling now they were misled.
Muriel Gay had both of her children poisoned at the Jonesboro school. Her son, Carol, 13, and daughter, Jessie, 9 were stricken.
She thinks children are able to bounce back quicker than adults. She doesn’t favor reinstituting the program at Jonesboro, however.
“If they can do the same thing at the dentist’s, why bother putting it in the water?” she posed.
Gay doesn’t believe the program will be brought back. “Too many people are skeptical of it (fluoride in the water). We don’t need this kind of incident again.”
Jonesboro voters will get a chance to express their views in the future. School Committee chairperson Martha Knight states the school board is waiting for an official state report. An open public meeting will be held thereafter so citizens can air their views.
Helen Snowdeal, mother of seventh grade twins Coral and Carol, said one of them took ill from the excessive fluoride. She didn’t attend the meeting last spring when the fluoridation of the school’s drinking water was suggested.
“At the time I was in favor of the program,” she recalled, and she admitted her feelings have changed little. She called the recent accident “unfortunate” and suggested it could have happened anywhere or at any time.
Observers in the Jonesboro-Machlas area expect that when a vote is taken again to hook the fluoride dispenser back up to the school water supply, it will be rejected overwhelmingly.
School custodian Adian Smith speculated that another accident would probably never occur but also stated his expectation that taxpayers will probably never let fluoride be placed in the school’s water supply again.
Mrs. Faulkingham stated she couldn’t vote to return to the fluoride program.
“Watching so many kids vomiting is not a pleasant sight.”
Robert Berta is the publisher of County Wide, a weekly in Machias.
THE MAINE PAPER
December 14, 1981
Fluoridation Overdose at Jonesboro School Kills Future Program – State to Pay Medical Bills
The State Department of Human Services has received its walking papers and a bill for over $1,100 from the Jonesboro Elementary School Committee.
Two months after a fluoridation dispenser installed at the school by Human Services malfunctioned, poisoning 54 students, school staff and the principal, a secret ballot vote was taken of Jonesboro citizens. By a landslide, the Maine Fluoridation Program was ousted.
School Committee Chairman, Martha Knight, quoting from minutes of their Dec. 1 meeting, reported the following to The Maine Paper, which had carried an extensive story about the Oct. 6 poisoning.
“It was voted to discontinue fluoridation of the drinking water supply in the Jonesboro Elementary School. The action was taken with respect to the wishes of the parents and citizens of Jonesboro, who voted 42-3 at a public hearing on Nov. 30 to cease participation in the Maine Fluoridation Program.
Mrs. Knight said they also voted to direct state officials to remove all fluoride dispensing equipment and unused chemical from the school.
Superintendent Ozias Bridgham presented a report regarding who should pay the hospital emergency room bill resulting from the fluoride overdose. None of the victims was fatally injured.
The emergency room cost at Down East Community Hospital at Machias was $1,137.24. The doctors gave of their time voluntarily.
Bridgham reported that the state had offered to pay the difference between what schooldchild insurances and adult staff Worker’s Compensation insurance would pay.
However, the School Committee voted to charge the entire bill to the state, a position taken because the investigation report indicated the liability for the fluoride overdose and mass poisoning rested primarily with the State of Maine Fluoride Program and/or its personnel.
“A number of parents have stated to school board members that they will not permit any claims to be filed in conjunction with their personal insurances,” Mrs. Knight stated.
The night of the devastating secret ballot, a number of state Human Service staffers showed up to try and save the program.
Dr. William Nersesian, director of the Maine Bureau of Health, tried to defend the program’s value, saying the only articles he had ever seen downplaying the value of fluoride had appeared in the National Enquirer and The Maine Paper.
However, the room that night was full of copies of magazine articles and fliers warning of the dangers of artificial fluoridation.
Christine Torraca, director of the Maine Fluoridation Program, a part of Dr. Nersesian’s bureau, gave an historical statement about the use of fluoride in drinking water and events leading up to the Jonesboro poisoning accident, hoping to assuage any fears about continuing the program.
She was confronted, however, by angry residents who gave stark descriptions of children vomiting in fits of nausea. Parents had been told originally that there was no danger in the program.
The governmenet-promoted system was designed to inject 5.4 parts per million of articial sodium fluoride into the school drinking water, ostensibly to prevent tooth decay. However, a combination of defective equipment and human error resulted in a dose of more than 120 parts per million.
Theone Look, a Jonesboro resident and county commissioner, read from an American Dental Association News publication of Jan. 5, 1981 citing the concern of the Center for Disease Control “about possible overfeeds, such as when a well goes down but the fluoride feeder keeps pumping.” The CDC is national coordinator for government fluoridation programming.
Dennis Phillips, the state technician who was in Jonesboro the day before the poisonings, inspecting the equipment, argued that most malfunctioning systems put out too little, rather than too much, of the chemical. He characterized statements in the dental report as “typically garbled.”
To date, the normal water supplies of 14 Maine schools have been interrupted to install dispensers for artificial sodium fluoride.
The other schools, according to Torraca, are Bowdoin Central, Burlington Elementary, the E.M. Curtis School at Enfield, Grand Isle Elementary, Greene Central, Harpswell Islands School, West Harpswell Elementary, Leeds Central, Phippsburg Elementary, Sherman Elementary, Staceyville Elementary, Benedicta Elementary, Turner Elementary. Another will begin at Holden in the near future, and one at Joneport is under consideration.
Neither Dr. Nersesian nor Torraca felt it likely the Jonesboro poisoning would alter the feelings of people in those communities about continuing the program.
Mrs. Knight also said she did not sense that any group of concerned citizens was emerging from Jonesboro to warn other towns about child poisonings from artifical fluoride overdose.