Bradford — Water and Sewer Commission members have voted to reaffirm their May decision to remove fluoride from the town’s water supply.
Commissioners initially voted in May to end fluoridation, a decision that flew under the radar for months before sparking a backlash from dentists and residents. On Tuesday, the commission took another vote, and the results were the same.
“We wanted to be sure that we were all still on the same page,” Commission Chairman Robert Nutting said in an interview yesterday.
The commission, however, didn’t list the fluoride vote on Tuesday night’s meeting agenda, which has some residents crying foul.
“The way they are going about it is wrong,” said longtime resident Gary Moore, who opposes the commission’s decision. “(Fluoride) wasn’t on the agenda so there was no reason to go to the meeting. Had it been on the agenda, I would’ve gone and I assume others would’ve gone too.”
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said the commission didn’t break the law, but he was critical of the process.
“It’s not the right way to do it,” he said.
Having served on a city council for 18 years, Condos said, “we rarely, if ever, would take up an action item under other business, especially if it was a hot or controversial item. We would want to make sure the public has an opportunity to speak.”
Vermont League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Steven Jeffrey agreed with Condos from a legality standpoint and wrote “we know of no legal requirement that would limit a board to only act on items included on an agenda.”
Legalities aside, Moore said “working in secret” is not the way boards and commissions should be doing things. “They should know better,” he said.
This isn’t the first time the commission has been criticized for a lack of transparency on the fluoride issue. The commission’s initial vote to end water fluoridation went unnoticed for several months.
“The way it was done was kind of sneaky,” said resident Deborah Wernecke, who supports water fluoridation. “They took their sweet time and finally sent a notice in the second bill we had gotten since the decision.” That notice came six months after fluoridation was stopped.
“Their process was striking,” said Bradford resident John Price. “It was wretched and embarrassing.”
The fluoride topic was discussed in a 15-minute public comment session commencing at 6 p.m. Tuesday night and was brought up again just after 8 p.m. Each commission member voted the same way he did when the original vote was cast in early May. Nutting, Robert Terrill, Larry Drew and Seth Bean voted to end fluoridation, while Lunnie Lang abstained — as he was not present at the time of the original vote.
Commission Office Manager Bridget Simmons characterized those who voted in favor of eliminating fluoride were “firm in the decision they made.”
“I don’t think that the commission will change their opinion, but that’s not to say the public doesn’t have a choice,” Simmons said. “Anybody can bring anything to the Selectboard or to the commission with a petition.”
Town Clerk Marianne McClure said in order for such a petition to be considered, it would need a minimum of 45 signatures from property owners with a connection to the town’s water system.
If a petition is brought forward and “requests a specific article to be voted upon” it would be brought forward to a Town Meeting vote in March, McClure said.
Commissioners also decided Tuesday night to hold an informational meeting on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Bradford Academy building to allow residents to further express their views.
The topic of fluoridating the town’s water supply was heavily debated at a forum last month that was attended by about 50 residents. Supporters of the commission’s decision to remove fluoride from the town’s water supply cited involuntary exposure and potential health effects, while opponents argued the positive health benefits of fluoride, such as preventing tooth decay.
Dr. Robert Munson, a Bradford dentist, said the board’s decision to stop nearly three decades of fluoridation is doing a disservice to residents.
“I just think it goes totally against A) common sense and B) good science and years of improvement of the dental health of our children,” Munson said, who indicated in his years of practicing, he hasn’t seen a single case of fluorosis — the act of receiving too much fluoride causing tooth enamel to change.
Munson said yesterday he was planning to start or sign a petition to be able to put the vote to residents. He said he would like to see the issue to go before voters, instead of just the water system’s users, because the town schools use the water lines.
“If we lived in Utopia and I had the little tooth fairy angel who went around and gave the kids the proper dosage of fluoride tablets I would be a happy camper, but water is the most effective way to do that,” Munson said.
Chairman Nutting said he personally favors the elimination of fluoride because he’s unaware of “how much is too much (fluoride).” He said he understands the state recommended a safe dosage, but he said the combination of fluoride in the water supply, toothpaste and other products could push a person over that limit.
“If it’s so good for you, why hasn’t the state made it mandatory?,” Nutting questioned. “Maybe we are wrong, maybe we are right, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.”
At last month’s hearing, commission members cited finances as a reason for stopping fluoridation. It was also stated that after the fluoride pump house shut down, the town didn’t have the necessary equipment to pump fluoride back into the water.
Currently, 44 percent of Vermont towns don’t fluoridate their water supply, according to Vermont Department of Health’s Public Information Officer Robert Stirewalt. Hartland, Hartford, Thetford and Windsor are a few of those towns.
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction ran in the Friday, Dec. 14 edition of the Valley News.
The Bradford, Vt., Water and Sewer Commission will meet Feb. 20 to allow residents to express opinions about fluoridation. A story in yesterday’s edition gave an incorrect date.