NORTH ATTLEBORO — The seemingly never-ending battle over fluoride in the water could be moving from the local stage to the Statehouse in the near future.
State Rep. Kathleen Teahan, D-Whitman, has filed legislation requiring that fluoride be added to the water supply in every community with 5,000 people or more.
One hundred and thirty five Massachusetts cities and towns already have fluoride in the public water supply.
Teahan’s bill has 26 co-sponsors in the House.
Teahan said she believes her legislation will take the politics out of what is essentially a public health decision.
A battle over the fluoridation of North Attleboro’s water supply is under way.
State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said she believes the bill would merely shift the political controversy from the local to the state level.
Poirier said Statehouse hearings on the bill will attract an outpouring of activists on both sides of the issue.
She said she opposes the bill because she does not believe the state should dictate what towns should do, especially on such a controversial measure.
“Each community is unique and has its own character. The communities are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves,” she said.
State Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, who represents North Attleboro and Plainville, said he also opposes the bill.
“I’ve always felt this should be left to local control and local boards,” he said. “I’m not supportive of this. The state should not involve themselves in this.”
The state Department of Public Health has not taken a position on the bill.
Teahan said she was originally opposed to the idea of a state mandate, believing in local control.
But, she said, the more she studied the subject, the more she came to believe that there was a lot of misinformation being spread about fluoride.
She said the benefits of it are “wonderful.”
Fluoride contributes to oral health and helps prevent infections in the mouth that can lead to other health problems, she said.
Critics, such as those in North Attleboro, content fluoridation is dangerous.
The issue has been going back and forth for years in North Attleboro and, to a lesser extent, in Plainville.
Voters in North Attleboro approved fluoride in the water five years ago.
However, the opponents of fluoridation on the board of health voted four months ago to order the public works department to stop putting fluoride in the water.
The department refused to comply, based on an opinion by town counsel that the board could not overrule the decision of voters.
The health board voted again Monday to order the halt.
Plainville gets some of its water from North Attleboro, and voters in Plainville have voted to remove fluoride from its water.
However, the water department said it has no way of removing the fluoride, and town meeting has refused to fund a treatment plant.
Teahan said she expects her bill to get a hearing before the joint Committee on Public Health when the Legislature reconvenes in the fall.
A vote could come next spring, she said.