BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls may soon join the debate over whether to remove fluoride from residents’ drinking water.
Village trustees touched on the question Tuesday night and will seek community input at their next meeting in two weeks.
Trustee Luise Light, a nutritionist, said on Wednesday the question is becoming increasingly urgent for Vermont communities.
“Fluoride is one of the most dire poisons we know on earth,” Light said.
“It’s highly toxic.” The risks associated with Fluoride have been getting renewed attention lately after a prominent Harvard researcher was accused in June of Matt Clary 8/10/05 misrepresenting an unpublished study about bone cancer and fluoridated tap water. The 2001 study, which he oversaw, found boys aged 6 to 10 who drink fluoridated water have a greater risk of developing a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
The question over removing fluoride from residents’ tap water has been hotly contested this summer in Burlington, the first Vermont city to fluoridate drinking water in 1952. The city council will consider the issue next month.
Critics say, with fortified toothpaste and new dental technology, people are overexposed to fluoride.
Health department officials say the concern is overstated. Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral in water, has helped decrease tooth decay throughout the U.S. since it was first added to residents’ drinking water in 1945.
“Fluoride is naturally occurring in all water throughout the world and all we do is adjust that level upward to fight tooth decay,” Dr. Steve Arthur, Dental Director of the state Board of Health, said.
Bellows Falls is one of 45 water districts in Vermont that fluoridate drinking water. About 1,100 buildings throughout Rockingham, North Westminster and Bellows Falls are hooked up to the village’s water system, Public Works Director Everett Hammond said.
The village has been adding the mineral since 1968 and, in that time, the evidence supporting fluoride use has only grown, Arthur said.
But not all communities have bought into the conventional wisdom.
Brattleboro and Bennington rejected proposals to add fluoride to the tap water in 2000 and 2001. According to press reports from those public debates, residents worried that fluoride was never meant to be consumed and potential benefits did not outweigh risks.
“The fact that something naturally occurs in water is no guarantee that it will be safe,” Paul Connett, executive director of the Fluoride Action Network in New York, said Wednesday. “Lead naturally occurs in some water.
Arsenic naturally occurs in some water.” In Burlington, residents have debated more than the health risks. Some have complained that adding fluoride to their drinking water eliminates the right to choose whether they want such treatment.
“We have a lot of things in life we do for public health,” Arthur countered.
“We stop at a stop sign for public health.” Critics say the board of health is ignoring mounting evidence against fluoride use.
Connett said health officials simply don’t want to upset a “beautiful theory” they invented in 1945, in which a public ill like tooth decay could be cured by adding a magic potion to the water.
“The outcome is serious and should be making all communities like Bellows Falls reconsider this,” Connett said.