ASHLAND — A group of residents is banding together to urge the Board of Health not to add fluoride to the town’s water and may press for a ballot referendum if officials vote to act otherwise.
About a dozen people were involved in a group calling itself Ashland for Pure Water before a public forum on fluoridation last week, and roughly a dozen more signed up after that discussion, said David Whitty, an organizer.
The group’s focus is to provide the Board of Health with studies and other evidence raising questions about the effectiveness and potential health risks of adding fluoride to drinking water, Whitty said.
“I do believe that if they examine the evidence fairly, they will see the risks of fluoridation outweigh the benefit,” Whitty said yesterday.
The Board of Health has made no decision yet on fluoride and will talk about how to proceed at its next meeting, Chairman Malcolm Smart said. The board may hold another public forum on the topic before deciding, he said.
Smart stressed that he feels the board should stay neutral in the debate and hear out the evidence.
“We just wanted to present the information – what the possibilities could be,” Smart said of last week’s session, where two panels argued the pros and cons of fluoridation.
Whitty said the forum showed the Board of Health wants to hear from both sides.
If the board chooses to add fluoride to the town’s water, state law allows residents to call for a ballot question on the measure if they can gather signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters.
Whitty said Ashland for Pure Water is aware of that provision, “but we hope that it won’t come to that.”
The group is, however, calling on Board of Health candidates in the May 20 election to state a position on fluoridation. So far Smart and a challenger, Dimitri Karpouzis, have turned in nomination papers to run for a single seat on the board. A third resident, Catherine Rooney, also has taken out papers.
Whitty said he believes people can be over-exposed to fluoride when it is added to drinking water, partly because it exists in food and other sources both naturally and as part of some fertilizers and pesticides.
“You have lots of different sources today than when fluoridation of water began in 1945,” Whitty said.
He noted that the American Dental Association, which supports fluoridation, also recommends mixing formula for infants with fluoride-free water because developing teeth are susceptible to fluorosis, or defects in the enamel of the teeth. Whitty questioned why residents, particularly low-income people, should have to buy bottled water and learn about this potential risk.
He cited a 1998 fluoride study carried out by a Natick committee that issued a 91-page report saying the risks of fluoridation outweigh any benefits.
Natick ultimately did add fluoride to its water, and Myron Allukian, former director of oral health for Boston, read a letter at last week’s forum from the town’s Board of Health chairman praising fluoridation.
Allukian said almost every major public health organization in the country supports adding one part fluoride per million parts water as a safe, effective and cheap method of preventing dental decay.
Most MetroWest towns have fluoridated water.
Whitty, who organized a series of films critical of fluoridation at the Ashland Public Library this year, said his group will meet soon.
“I would say we’re off to a good start and there will be a lot of people in Ashland who are first of all concerned about this. … A lot of people want information,” Whitty said.
Smart said he hopes residents will listen to the evidence and decide for themselves what they believe.
“It’s up to individuals to make their choice,” he said.