CONCORD – Residents of communities purchasing water service from the city of Manchester should be able to vote on whether the city should add fluoride to its water supply, argued opponents of a N.H. House bill that would allow only the supplying community a vote.
The bill, HB 449 introduced by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, was written to meet the terms of a state Supreme Court decision that said the city erred when it held a fluoridation referendum for only its own citizens, excluding a number of customer towns.
Towns purchasing water from Manchester are Auburn, Bedford, Goffstown, Hooksett, Derry and Londonderry.
The bill would allow Manchester or any water source community to exclude outside community voting on fluoridation issues unless there is an agreement between the supplying city and a purchasing city.
During a public hearing yesterday before the Senate Environment Committee, opponents of the bill argued that any purchasing community should be able to negate the supplying city’s vote to add fluoride even if their vote is in the minority.
Since the water supply belongs to all, Manchester or any source city is obligated to hold referenda in all purchasing communities even if that community’s residents voted for fluoridation, the argument goes.
State Rep. Barbara Hagan, R-Manchester, said the concerns of any subset of voters who are concerned about a substance that may hurt them should be respected.
“The fact that Manchester happens to be the keeper of the well is irrelevant,” Hagan told the committee.
While opponents focused on the democratic aspects of the issue and used the term “disenfranchised” frequently, proponents focused largely on the benefits of fluoridation, such as combating tooth decay. They argued that dental health benefits far outweigh any negatives that may exist in the fluoridation process.
D’Allesandro and others argued that there are about 10,000 communities nationwide that fluoridate their water and about 160 million Americans are served by and benefit from fluoridation.
“Fluoridated water is the most cost effective, practical means of improving our oral health,” D’Allesandro said.
Fluoridated water prevents tooth decay in people of all ages, D’Allesandro continued. In fact, it used to that when people went to their dentists, they received fluoride treatments, D’Allesandro told the committee.
But opponents carted out reasons why fluoride-treated water is unhealthy, including the argument that chemically treated water can cause bone damage in elderly women – an assertion flatly denied by the president-elect of the New Hampshire Dental Society, Dr. Skip Homicz, who practices in Antrim.
Homicz said opponents of fluoridation have most recently used fear of contaminants, industrial-grade chemicals and cancer. But studies over the past 50 years have confirmed the safety of water fluoridation and its position as a primary factor in 75 percent of the reduction of dental decay, Homicz said.
An opponent of the bill, Lloyd Basinow of Manchester, said voters have a right to know exactly what chemicals, compounds and impurities have been added to the water and have a say in the process.
Concord attorney Jed Z. Callen, who brought the towns‚ case against Manchester, said that if the bill passes, it may not survive a constitutional challenge in court. The discussion is not about fluoridation, but people’s right to vote, Callen said.
The court didn’t say Manchester had to forego fluoridated water if another community voted against it, Callen said. It only said that a town voting against it was entitled to be supplied untreated water. Whether Manchester’s water system can separate water going elsewhere is a plumbing matter, not a matter of law, Callen testified.