Water fluoridation has become an issue in Burlington, and the City Council on Monday took note of the debate. After lengthy debate, and by a divided vote, it passed a resolution urging that the amount of fluoride in the city’s water be reduced to the minimum level recommended by state and national authorities.
The final version, which passed by a 7-4 vote, was a watered-down version of the original resolution. Language that declared fluoride was a “significant health risk” to infants was removed, as was language indicating that infants up to 6 months of age should receive no fluoride.
Joan Shannon, D-Ward 5, who sponsored the resolution with Sharon Bushor, I-Ward 1, urged that it be passed in its original form, calling it “a small and conservative step,” but the council, following the lead of Kurt Wright, R-Ward 4, narrowed it considerably.
To fluoridation supporters — dentists and the Vermont Department of Health — adding fluoride to the water a proven and cost-effective way to deliver a mineral that reduces tooth decay. To those who oppose it — groups such as the Fluoride Action Network — it is mandated medication that carries with it significant health risks, particularly for children.
Burlington’s Board of Health held public hearings on fluoride this year and decided by a 3-2 vote that the city should continue fluoridating its water supply but consider reducing the amount of fluoride. The board also said that exposing infants up to 6 months old to fluoride constituted “a significant public health risk.”
Even before last night’s crowded meeting began, Dr. Steve Arthur, director of the health department’s Office of Oral Health, e-mailed a lengthy statement to councilors arguing that fluoride is not a significant health risk. He said the department continues unreservedly to support water fluoridation.
He also took exception to a provision in the resolutions that would have the Board of Health leading the effort to develop information on fluoridation to be distributed to Burlington parents. The board, he wrote, “is not the appropriate body to ‘develop’ health education literature. Instead, he said, the Health Department should have that job.
The council, after listening to 21 speakers for and against fluoridation, leaned in Arthur’s direction. The “significant risk” language was removed from the resolution, and the Department of Health gained the seat it wished on the panels that will recommend the appropriate amount of fluoride in the water and develop the literature informing parents about fluoride.
The resolution was amended extensively on the floor. Two attempts to send the resolution to committee for fine-tuning failed, despite promises that it could be returned for a council vote at the Oct. 11 meeting.