BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) — Residents here will be voting in a referendum Nov. 7 on whether the town should add fluoride to its drinking water.
The select board voted unanimously Tuesday to put the issue to the voters in a referendum. The board also set two public forums on the issue — Sept. 27 and Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.
“I don’t think this is the time or place for a public dispute on the benefits or harms of putting fluoride in drinking water,” said Chairman Robert Fagelson. “We’re not officially taking a position one way or the other.”
A few residents attending the meeting said more time was needed to educate the public, and they asked how the issue had gotten back onto the public agenda after Brattleboro voted fluoridation down in the 1970s.
The issue was discussed in 1989 when the town built its filtration plant, but there was no big push to fluoridate the water then.
“The (state) health department has advocated for it,” said Steve Barrett, director of public works, who added that local dentists have also conveyed support.
Barrett presented the findings of an engineering report on the issue, and emphasized that state contributions toward the cost of equipment and the first year’s chemicals minimized the town’s costs.
Fagelson said that putting the issue on the November ballot would probably provide both sides in the debate with more time, since a definitive decision by selectmen could force a vote within 30 days if disputed.
Gov. Howard Dean pushed the fluoridation issue back to the forefront in Brattleboro in February.
He said residents have about twice as many cavities as residents who live in towns that add fluoride to water supplies, and said by not fluoridating the water, Brattleboro, which is one of the state’s most progressive communities, is neglecting the needs of its low-income residents.
Since the public water supply is free from fluoridation, the public schools offer fluoride tablets to all children through Grade 6, Barrett said in February.
About 200 out of 270 kids take part in the program.