BENNINGTON – A controversial proposal to add fluoride to the town’s water system is likely to be put to the voters sometime next year, according to a Select Board member.
The proposal, which brought supporters and critics out in force to a public hearing Tuesday, is so emotionally freighted that voters deserve a say, Salvatore Santarcangelo said Tuesday in a brief interview.
But the cost of holding a special election, about $5,000 to $6,000, means the question probably won’t be addressed until voters go to the polls on Town Meeting Day next March, he said.
Select Board members indicated Tuesday that they were in no hurry to make a decision, given the complexity and sheer volume of the evidence submitted by those on both sides of the issue.
Dr. Michael Brady, a dentist who runs a clinic at full-service elementary school in town, was joined by other local physicians in urging the Select Board to help stem one of the worst rates of dental decay among children in Vermont.
Adding fluoride to the water supply will also help the elderly, who frequently suffer medical complications due to poor oral health, they said.
“This is really the silver bullet. … It’s basically going to help all citizens of all ages throughout life,” Dr. Justin Salem said.
Opponents, however, urged caution. Dr. Alexander Tenentes, an optometrist who said he was “embarrassed” to be the only member of the local medical community to come out against the plan, argued that fluoride carried a variety of health risks that outweighed its potential benefits.
“Above all, do no harm. Err on the side of safety,” he said.
And Paul Connett, a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University, said that if Bennington did not add the chemical to its water, it would be in good company. London, Rome, Berlin and most other Western European cities do not use fluoride and their citizens are better off for it, he said.
“They don’t want to impose medicine on people who don’t want it,” he said.
Given its history as the first state to abolish slavery, “I would have thought Vermont … would have been particularly sensitive to individual rights,” Connett said.
Although the opponents cited Nobel Prize winners who shared their views, Kevin McDonald, a vice president at Southwestern Vermont Health Care, urged the public to use its common sense and consider the source of the critics’ information.