ASHLAND — Fluoride opponents and supporters will argue the potential benefits and hazards of adding the chemical to the town’s drinking water in a public forum next Thursday.
The Board of Health is organizing two panels, one on each side of the sometimes controversial question of whether fluoridation safely reinforces developing teeth or can be linked to cancer and other possible dangers.
“I think it will be a lot of scientific information from both sides,” Health Director Mark Oram said. “It’s up to the board to hear both sides and make a decision.”
The panel discussion is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Middle School library.
The Board of Health has discussed fluoridation for about a year since Oram attended a conference on oral health and discussed fluoride with the Watch Your Mouth campaign, which tries to raise awareness about dental health among children. He later attended a meeting with the Massachusetts Dental Society to learn more, he said yesterday.
Board of Health Chairman Malcolm Smart said his group has not taken a side in the debate and is still trying to gather facts.
“The board has to be neutral in this situation,” Smart said. “We feel the board is running a very up-front, very honest and very open situation.”
Oram said he asked Lyn Bethel of the state Department of Public Health’s Office of Oral Health to help put together a panel in favor of fluoride.
To form a panel on the opposing side, Smart said the board is working with David Whitty, a member of the Friends of the Ashland Public Library who set up a documentary series critical of fluoridation at the library this year.
Both panels will have 30 minutes each to make a presentation and field questions from the audience before the forum is opened up for general discussion, Smart said.
“It’s going to be a controlled atmosphere,” he said.
The Board of Health’s next step after the forum is not yet clear, but Smart said more discussion probably will be in the works.
“We’re not going to rush through and make a law or regulation immediately,” he said.
Ashland last considered fluoridation about a decade ago. Many communities in MetroWest have fluoridated water, including Framingham, Natick, Marlborough, Hudson, Holliston, Wayland, Sudbury, Wellesley, Newton, Dedham and Waltham.
Several of those towns get water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which adds about one part fluoride per million parts water to its supply. Ashland supplemented its drinking water supply with help from the MWRA earlier this year when a drought depleted the town’s wells.
A proposal to mandate fluoridation statewide died on Beacon Hill in 2006, but Oram said he wishes the state would step in so local health boards do not have to wrestle with the issue on a town-by-town basis.
But for now, the decision is Ashland’s.
“I say let the scientific process come to play and that’s how the decision should be made,” Oram said.