BELLOWS FALLS — Though most of the water talk in the village has been about that which goes over the dam, the Trustees have begun discussing the water that goes into their constituents’ bodies.
And while it is hard to imagine another liquid issue dividing residents as much as the dam controversy, the emerging topic is sure to bring strong opinions on both sides to the surface.
At their meeting on Tuesday, the Bellows Falls Trustees opened the debate over water fluoridation.
The village water supply is fluoridated. At the Tuesday meeting, the Trustees talked about beginning to gather public opinion on whether the village should stop adding fluoride to the municipal water supply.
At a previous meeting, Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe brought the issue up under “new business,” and on Tuesday the topic was on the agenda.
Village Trustee Luise Light said the board was not ready to schedule a public hearing. She said the topic will likely be on the agenda again for the Aug. 23 meeting, and she said she expects the debate will bring out vocal camps on either side.
Light is a nutritionist with a doctorate in nutrition. She worked for the National Cancer Institute and for the Institute of Science in Society. She is opposed to adding fluoride to public water supplies.
“It is a troublesome issue,” said Light. “There have been numerous studies linking fluoride to bone cancer and hyperthyroid problems. It is a good thing for us to take a look at.”
Light said she wanted to schedule a public hearing, but the Trustees opted to put the topic on the next agenda.
In June, after a number of public meetings, the Burlington Board of Health voted 3-2 to recommend to the City Council that Burlington continue its use of fluoride. The health board also asked the city to consider reducing the amount of fluoride it uses.
In November 2000, Brattleboro voters rejected a proposal to fluoridate their water.
The Vermont Department of Health recommends fluoridating public water supplies.
According to Alinda Lund, of the department’s office of oral health, about 56 percent of the state’s population that receives its water from a public source gets fluoride through its water.
She said that number has remained constant through the years. The department recommends adding fluoride at a rate of 1 part per million.
“At that range there are no adverse health effects,” Lund said. The village adds 1 part per million, according to Village Chief of Water Operations, Floyd LaFoe.
He said the village has been adding fluoride to its water supply since around 1965.
Lund said the Health Department supports fluoridation by providing equipment and training, and by testing the supplies and making sure the levels are safe.
But according to Michael Connett, program director for the Fluoride Action Network, the only safe level is zero.
“The evidence is clear,” he said. “Even dentists say that the benefits of fluoride are topical. Putting fluoride in a public water supply is not a good way of delivering this.”
Connett, who runs the national organization in Burlington, said nationwide, about 67 percent of the population uses fluoridated water. He said that while 56 percent of the state that uses public water receives fluoride, that number amounts to less than 40 percent of the population.
The Village Trustees have the authority to decide the fluoridation question, but Light said she hoped to hear from the public before action is taken.
Connett said he expects to have a representative at the Aug. 23 meeting.
“It has been controversial for 40 years,” Light said. “I think this topic calls for more open dialogue and discussion.”