SPRINGFIELD – The city Public Health Council voted 9-1 last night to recommend that the mayor and City Council approve fluoridation of the water supply, but that doesn’t mean the treatment is imminent.
State law prohibits fluoridation if a municipal water source also supplies other communities that haven’t approved fluoridation and if the water directed to each community can’t be treated independently, said Helen R. Caulton-Harris, director of the city Health and Human Services Department.
East Longmeadow, Agawam and Ludlow draw from the city water supply and they haven’t approved fluoridation, said Caulton-Harris, a health council member.
The city doesn’t add fluoride to the water supply, though fluoride exists in the water in small, naturally occurring levels, Katherine J. Pedersen, spokeswoman for the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, has said.
Fluoride supporters say treating the municipal water supply with fluoride – a form of the element fluorine, which occurs naturally in the environment – is an effective oral-health tool.
But opponents say that chemicals used in fluoridation can be harmful and that having the government treat the public water infringes on an individual’s right to decide what to ingest.
The health board is an adviser to the mayor and was asked to take a position on fluoridation by City Council President Timothy J. Rooke to help city councilors shape their views.
The vote followed about 90 minutes of debate at the Meline Kasparian Professional Development Center, 60 Alton St., in which the board received presentations from supporters and opponents of fluoridation.
When debate concluded, board member Joel Cohen, a retired microbiology professor, tried to send the meeting behind closed doors because he said he wanted the panel to have a private discussion before voting. Cohen was acting chairman because the regular chairman, Dr. Thomas J. Manning, a dentist, was making a pro-fluoridation presentation.
But the executive session bid failed after objections were raised and Caulton-Harris said the board was subject to the state Open Meeting Law. About 60 people attended the meeting.
Voting for fluoridation were Dr. Paul Hetzel, an oncologist; Dr. Jeffrey Scavron, medical director of the Brightwood Health Center; Patricia Twiggs and Gloria Wilson, registered nurses; private citizens Mattie Jenkins and Hamilton Wray; Manning, Caulton-Harris and Cohen.
Board member Josephine Sears voted no, saying, “It is possible to treat the children with fluoride other than through the water.”