BELLOWS FALLS — It will be up to voters to decide next year if the village should continue its 30-year practice of fluoridating its water after some local officials raised concerns over its alleged health implications.
Bellows Falls Village President Charles Jarras said Thursday that an Australian ballot question before village voters at the annual meeting in May 2006 might be the best way to decide what could become of a divisive issue.
“It’s a big issue and a broad discussion,” said Jarras, who is opposed to removing fluoride from the Bellows Falls’ water system. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a decision that should probably be brought to village meeting.”
Luise Light, a nutritionist elected to the board in May, said she plans to hold several public meetings before the vote to raise awareness of what she believes are the possible health implications of fluoride, including cancer and an increase in hip fractures.
A second meeting on the topic could come as soon as within the next six weeks, she said.
“There should be several meetings,” said Light. “We’ve heard from the experts, but we need to hear from the people too.”
Bellows Falls adds six 400-pound drums of fluoride to the village water system each year, at the cost of about $4,000.
Nearly every mainstream medical group in the United States supports fluoridation as an ideal method of fighting tooth decay in children. But a growing number of scientists have questioned if fluoride’s benefits have been overstated while its health implications hidden.
Light and Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe recently raised concerns over the fluoridation of the village water system.
Nearly a dozen people — mostly medical experts and anti-fluoride activists who live outside of Bellows Falls — attended a trustees hearing on Aug. 23 and gave conflicting medical and anecdotal evidence in favor of and against the tooth-decay fighting additive.
Trustee Roger Riccio suggested Thursday the village could invest the $4,000 spent to purchase fluoride each year to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste for area children and educate parents on proper tooth care.
When Trustee Stefan Golec questioned if proper tooth care is the village’s responsibility, Riccio pointed out that it has been since fluoride was added more than 30 years ago.
“I’m all for removing additives from our water,” Riccio said.
O’Keefe suggested an Australian ballot question might be the most appropriate way to decide the issue, since some village residents may not want to publicly reveal their opinions.
Bellows Falls is the fourth community in Vermont to tackle the issue in recent years. Since 2000, voters in Brattleboro and Bennington have rejected efforts to add fluoride to the municipal water systems.
Earlier this year, a city health board in Burlington voted 3-2 to decrease the amount of fluoride in the water system. The Burlington City Council is now reviewing that recommendation.