There are all sorts of questions surrounding the debate over the continued community fluoridation of drinking water in Rockport — and, by extension, in Gloucester — all through a campaign being pushed by a citizens’ group called the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network.
One can certainly argue, for example, whether such an important public health issue should be decided, in part, through a popularity contest at town election polls.
Yet the anti-fluoride action network succeeded in getting enough Fall Town Meeting votes Monday night to bring the measure to a referendum in either a town or scheduled state election. And while that vote doesn’t force the selectmen to place it on a ballot — and such referendum vote would not be binding, anyway —Rockport’s selectmen owe it to the petitioners, and really to all town residents, to place the question on the ballot to gauge residents’ views on the issue.
The fact that 35 Cape Ann dentists all signed a letter to the Times two weeks ago in support for continuing the community fluoridation program should carry a lot of weight. And Dr. William Bebrin, the orthodontist who crafted and circulated the letter, has noted some key points.
First, a community-wide fluoridation program makes the tooth decay fighter available to all residents — especially children — regardless of any socio-economic status. Also, as he noted, dentists would be the ones to financially gain if fluoride were dropped from the water systems; by most counts, fluoridation remains effective in preventing tooth decay, so any change could be expected to bring more cavities, fillings, and higher dental bills. The dentists, Bebrin noted, took this rare, unified step simply in the name of the communities’ health.
Yet CAFAN activists remain passionate, they continue to raise a variety of questions that have some backing from groups such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, and they have indeed played by all the rules in bringing their question forward — getting it past even an underhanded move to reconsider Monday night’s vote after many participants had left the meeting.
To that end, town officials owe it to them and to the town’s democratic process to at least bring the issue to a referendum vote.
Ultimately, any decision to alter the town’s use of fluoridation will be up to the Board of Health. Yet, if CAFAN’s motion to end fluoridation were to gain approval by a wide margin at the polls, that will at least provide food for thought, and suggest that residents are unhappy with the quality of their water.
That’s at least worth finding out — isn’t it?