Last July, the Poynette Village Board quietly voted to stop adding fluoride — long considered an antidote to tooth decay — to the public water supply.
Steve Tomlinson, the village president, says the equipment the village had was old and unreliable, and the state doesn’t require fluoride in drinking water.
More importantly, village trustee Kevin Marquardt, chairman of the Public Works Committee, said fluoride is poison.
It took about three months before a new village trustee, Andy Ross, learned what the board had done and asked members to reconsider.
In January, a public hearing caused a stir for a village where most board meetings don’t draw crowds, Tomlinson said.
Now, dental hygienists and others are pushing hard to get fluoride flowing back into the village’s water, and the board has approved a non-binding referendum April 7 to test public opinion.
“Non-binding still gives (the board) a choice,” Tomlinson said.
Marquardt agreed. “That way we’re not bound for anything they vote for. We can still use our better judgment to do what’s right for the taxpayers. I would think with this referendum, there will be a lot of people voting who may not be as well-educated on the use of water fluoridation as people on the board.”
Tomlinson, who voted last July to stop fluoridating the village water, said he’ll vote to return fluoride if containment safety issues are settled.
“It seems like that’s what people want,” he said. “I’ll vote for what they want. I’ll listen to them.”
Poynette’s not alone.
Last month, the Chippewa Falls City Council voted 5-2 to take no action on a request from the Chippewa County Board of Health to add fluoride to the city’s water supply. In 2004, an advisory referendum to add fluoride to the city’s water supply was defeated by a 70 to 30 percent margin.
A total of 253 of Wisconsin’s 614 municipal water systems add fluoride, according to Lee Boushon, chief of the Public Water Supply Section of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Fluoride occurs naturally in combination with other minerals in soil and rocks.
Small amounts are present naturally in almost all water sources.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established drinking water standards for fluoride.
The agency does not consider short-term exposure to water containing 3 to 4 parts per million of fluoride to be harmful to human health, but acute toxicity can occur at a level of 30 ppm or more.
In Poynette, fluoridation died a quiet death in July.
The proposal to end it was put on the agenda so late it missed publication in the weekly newspaper, though it was posted on the village Web site, Tomlinson said.
No one came to the meeting to defend fluoridation, he said.
Tomlinson said cost never was an issue. “You can buy new stuff, but that wasn’t discussed,” he said. “The Public Works Committee just recommended the elimination of it. I guess we didn’t do any background checking to see what other communities are doing or how the rest of the community would feel about it.”
Ross said the Village Board didn’t do anything wrong, but board members also didn’t invite public opinion.
“Fluoridation is one of those essential decisions that requires citizen input,” Ross said. “The resulting uproar is proof that they should have done this before.”
Local experts don’t seem to think that fluoride is harmful in proper dosages.
“I don’t think that fluoride added to domestic potable water is a hazard,” said UW-Madison water quality specialist Jim Peterson. “Part of the problem with fluoride is that it was considered a Communist plot to kill all of us capitalists in the ’50s and is considered a governmental interference with individual rights by some vocal folks. … Bad but interesting science takes a long time to beat down,” he said.
Becky McFadden, a Madison dental hygienist who lives in Poynette, said no one has offered any scientific proof that fluoride is harmful.
“And there is 50 years worth of scientific proof that fluoridation pays off,” McFadden said. “For kids, fluoridation is showing a 20 to 40 percent reduction in decay.”
But there have been incidents. In August 2007, the Madison Water Utility had to shut down Well No. 28 on the Far West Side because there was too much fluoride in the water it was pumping into the drinking water supply.
Marquardt said the research he’s done on the Internet indicates Americans are getting too much fluoride.
“Too much fluoride is bad,” he said. “I’ve looked at hundreds of studies, and I formed my general opinion. I always thought fluoride in the water was good. I found I think it’s poison.”