BELLOWS FALLS — Village trustees listened to arguments on both sides of the water fluoridation issue at their regular board meeting on Tuesday.
Health officials, activists and science writers traveled from Keene and Charlestown, N.H., and from Springfield and Burlington, to state why they think adding fluoride to public water supplies is good policy, or dangerous to the health.
The village water is fluoridated. The village first added fluoride to the water supply in 1968.
Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe said at the meeting that the village spends about $4,000 every year on fluoridation. The Vermont Department of Health recommends maintaining a level of 1 part per million. O’Keefe said the village water has 1.4 parts per million.
Village Trustee Luise Light said she had some talks recently with O’Keefe and they decided to bring the issue up and begin discussing the benefits and dangers of adding fluoride to the water.
The trustees did not take any action at the meeting, and they did not schedule a date for a public hearing.
Supporters of fluoridation at the meeting included Rose Fowler, a nurse in Rockingham, and Rebecca Thomas, district director from the Springfield office of the Vermont Department of Health.
The Vermont Department of Health recommends adding fluoride to water. Fowler cited studies that show that fluoride does improve dental health and she also questioned studies that show a correlation between fluoride and health problems.
She said low-income people in the village rely on getting their fluoride in the water and she said local dentists support the practice.
Michael Connett, program director for Burlington’s Fluoride Action Network said fluoride can be an important part of dental health, but he stressed that the benefits come from topical application, and not through ingestion.
“This was sold to us on the notion that we have to ingest it,” he said. “But now we know that it is not the best way to provide it.”
He cited studies that do show a link between fluoride and bone cancer, and he said people should be able to decide if they want to ingest what he said was considered a drug.
Burlington recently held a debate on the fluoride issue. Earlier this year the Burlington Board of Health recommended that the city continue fluoridating its water, but it also said the levels should be reduced.
Brattleboro voters decided not to add the mineral to its water in 2000.
Katie Lajoie, a registered nurse from Charlestown, N.H., came to Tuesday’s meeting armed with a recent letter from 11 Environmental Protection Agency unions, asking that Congress ban the use of fluoride.
And Gerhard Bedding, a science writer from Keene, N.H., who spoke at the public meetings in Brattleboro, said the people of Bellows Falls need to have this discussion and understand what they are putting into their bodies.
“Where is the evidence that we are helping children,” he said. “Fluoridation makes absolutely no sense.”
The discussion went on for about an hour. Most of the board members seemed undecided on the issue and it was unclear what actions the board might take next.